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decided: April 5, 1971.



White, J., announced the Court's judgment, and delivered an opinion in which Burger, C. J., and Stewart and Blackmun, JJ., joined. Black, J., filed a statement concurring in the judgment, post, p. 754. Brennan, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 755. Douglas, J., post, p. 756, Harlan, J., post, p. 768, and Marshall, J., post, p. 795, filed dissenting opinions.

Author: White

[ 401 U.S. Page 746]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which THE CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE STEWART, and MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN join.

In 1966, respondent James A. White was tried and convicted under two consolidated indictments charging various illegal transactions in narcotics violative of 26 U. S. C. § 4705 (a) and 21 U. S. C. § 174. He was fined and sentenced as a second offender to 25-year concurrent sentences. The issue before us is whether the Fourth Amendment bars from evidence the testimony of governmental agents who related certain conversations which had occurred between defendant White and a government informant, Harvey Jackson, and which the agents

[ 401 U.S. Page 747]

     overheard by monitoring the frequency of a radio transmitter carried by Jackson and concealed on his person.*fn1 On four occasions the conversations took place in Jackson's home; each of these conversations was overheard by an agent concealed in a kitchen closet with Jackson's consent and by a second agent outside the house using a radio receiver. Four other conversations -- one in respondent's home, one in a restaurant, and two in Jackson's car -- were overheard by the use of radio equipment. The prosecution was unable to locate and produce Jackson at the trial and the trial court overruled objections to the testimony of the agents who conducted the electronic surveillance. The jury returned a guilty verdict and defendant appealed.

The Court of Appeals read Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), as overruling On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747 (1952), and interpreting the Fourth Amendment to forbid the introduction of the agents' testimony in the circumstances of this case. Accordingly, the court reversed but without adverting to the fact that the transactions at issue here had occurred before Katz was decided in this Court. In our view, the Court of Appeals misinterpreted both the Katz case and the Fourth Amendment and in any event erred in applying the Katz case to events that occurred before that decision was rendered by this Court.*fn2

[ 401 U.S. Page 748]


Until Katz v. United States, neither wiretapping nor electronic eavesdropping violated a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights "unless there has been an official search and seizure of his person, or such a seizure of his papers or his tangible material effects, or an actual physical invasion of his house 'or curtilage' for the purpose of making a seizure." Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 466 (1928); Goldman v. United States, 316 U.S. 129, 135-136 (1942). But where "eavesdropping was accomplished by means of an unauthorized physical penetration into the premises occupied" by the defendant, although falling short of a "technical trespass under the local property law," the Fourth Amendment was violated and any evidence of what was seen and heard, as well as tangible objects seized, was considered the inadmissible fruit of an unlawful invasion. Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 509, 511 (1961); see also Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471 (1963); Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41, 52 (1967); Alderman v. United States, 394 U.S. 165, 177-178 (1969).

Katz v. United States , however, finally swept away doctrines that electronic eavesdropping is permissible under the Fourth Amendment unless physical invasion of a constitutionally protected area produced the challenged evidence. In that case government agents, without petitioner's consent or knowledge, attached a listening device to the outside of a public telephone booth and recorded the defendant's end of his telephone conversations. In declaring the recordings inadmissible in evidence in the absence of a warrant authorizing the surveillance, the Court overruled Olmstead and Goldman and held that the absence of physical intrusion into the telephone booth did not justify using electronic devices in listening to and recording Katz' words, thereby violating

[ 401 U.S. Page 749]

     the privacy on which he justifiably relied while using the telephone in those circumstances.

The Court of Appeals understood Katz to render inadmissible against White the agents' testimony concerning conversations that Jackson broadcast to them. We cannot agree. Katz involved no revelation to the Government by a party to conversations with the defendant nor did the Court indicate in any way that a defendant has a justifiable and constitutionally protected expectation that a person with whom he is conversing will not then or later reveal the conversation to the police.

Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S. 293 (1966), which was left undisturbed by Katz, held that however strongly a defendant may trust an apparent colleague, his expectations in this respect are not protected by the Fourth Amendment when it turns out that the colleague is a government agent regularly communicating with the authorities. In these circumstances, "no interest legitimately protected by the Fourth Amendment is involved," for that amendment affords no protection to "a wrongdoer's misplaced belief that a person to whom he voluntarily confides his wrongdoing will not reveal it." Hoffa v. United States, at 302. No warrant to "search and seize" is required in such circumstances, nor is it when the Government sends to defendant's home a secret agent who conceals his identity and makes a purchase of narcotics from the accused, Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206 (1966), or when the same agent, unbeknown to the defendant, carries electronic equipment to record the defendant's words and the evidence so gathered is later offered in evidence. Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427 (1963).

Conceding that Hoffa, Lewis, and Lopez remained unaffected by Katz,*fn3 the Court of Appeals nevertheless

[ 401 U.S. Page 750]

     read both Katz and the Fourth Amendment to require a different result if the agent not only records his conversations with the defendant but instantaneously transmits them electronically to other agents equipped with radio receivers. Where this occurs, the Court of Appeals held, the Fourth Amendment is violated and the testimony of the listening agents must be excluded from evidence.

To reach this result it was necessary for the Court of Appeals to hold that On Lee v. United States was no longer good law. In that case, which involved facts very similar to the case before us, the Court first rejected claims of a Fourth Amendment violation because the informer had not trespassed when he entered the defendant's premises and conversed with him. To this extent the Court's rationale cannot survive Katz. See 389 U.S., at 352-353. But the Court announced a second and independent ground for its decision; for it went on to say that overruling Olmstead and Goldman would be of no aid to On Lee since he "was talking confidentially and indiscreetly with one he trusted, and he was overheard. . . . It would be a dubious service to the genuine liberties protected by the Fourth Amendment to make them bedfellows with spurious liberties improvised by farfetched analogies which would liken eavesdropping on a conversation, with the connivance of one of the parties, to an unreasonable search or seizure. We find no violation of the Fourth Amendment here." 343 U.S., at 753-754. We see no indication in Katz that the Court meant to disturb that understanding of the Fourth Amendment or to disturb the result reached in the On Lee case,*fn4 nor are we now inclined to overturn this view of the Fourth Amendment.

[ 401 U.S. Page 751]

     Concededly a police agent who conceals his police connections may write down for official use his conversations with a defendant and testify concerning them, without a warrant authorizing his encounters with the defendant and without otherwise violating the latter's Fourth Amendment rights. Hoffa v. United States, 385 U.S., at 300-303. For constitutional purposes, no different result is required if the agent instead of immediately reporting and transcribing his conversations with defendant, either (1) simultaneously records them with electronic equipment which he is carrying on his person, Lopez v. United States, supra ; (2) or carries radio equipment which simultaneously transmits the conversations either to recording equipment located elsewhere or to other agents monitoring the transmitting frequency. On Lee v. United States, supra. If the conduct and revelations of an agent operating without electronic equipment do not invade the defendant's constitutionally justifiable expectations of privacy, neither does a simultaneous recording of the same conversations made by the agent or by others from transmissions received from the agent to whom the defendant is talking and whose trustworthiness the defendant necessarily risks.

Our problem is not what the privacy expectations of particular defendants in particular situations may be or the extent to which they may in fact have relied on the discretion of their companions. Very probably, individual defendants neither know nor suspect that their colleagues have gone or will go to the police or are carrying recorders or transmitters. Otherwise, conversation would cease and our problem with these encounters would be nonexistent or far different from those now

[ 401 U.S. Page 752]

     before us. Our problem, in terms of the principles announced in Katz, is what expectations of privacy are constitutionally "justifiable" -- what expectations the Fourth Amendment will protect in the absence of a warrant. So far, the law permits the frustration of actual expectations of privacy by permitting authorities to use the testimony of those associates who for one reason or another have determined to turn to the police, as well as by authorizing the use of informants in the manner exemplified by Hoffa and Lewis. If the law gives no protection to the wrongdoer whose trusted accomplice is or becomes a police agent, neither should it protect him when that same agent has recorded or transmitted the conversations which are later offered in evidence to prove the State's case. See Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427 (1963).

Inescapably, one contemplating illegal activities must realize and risk that his companions may be reporting to the police. If he sufficiently doubts their trustworthiness, the association will very probably end or never materialize. But if he has no doubts, or allays them, or risks what doubt he has, the risk is his. In terms of what his course will be, what he will or will not do or say, we are unpersuaded that he would distinguish between probable informers on the one hand and probable informers with transmitters on the other. Given the possibility or probability that one of his colleagues is cooperating with the police, it is only speculation to assert that the defendant's utterances would be substantially different or his sense of security any less if he also thought it possible that the suspected colleague is wired for sound. At least there is no persuasive evidence that the difference in this respect between the electronically equipped and the unequipped agent is substantial enough to require discrete constitutional recognition,

[ 401 U.S. Page 753]

     particularly under the Fourth Amendment which is ruled by fluid concepts of "reasonableness."

Nor should we be too ready to erect constitutional barriers to relevant and probative evidence which is also accurate and reliable. An electronic recording will many times produce a more reliable rendition of what a defendant has said than will the unaided memory of a police agent. It may also be that with the recording in existence it is less likely that the informant will change his mind, less chance that threat or injury will suppress unfavorable evidence and less chance that cross-examination will confound the testimony. Considerations like these obviously do not favor the defendant, but we are not prepared to hold that a defendant who has no constitutional right to exclude the informer's unaided testimony nevertheless has a Fourth Amendment privilege against a more accurate version of the events in question.

It is thus untenable to consider the activities and reports of the police agent himself, though acting without a warrant, to be a "reasonable" investigative effort and lawful under the Fourth Amendment but to view the same agent with a recorder or transmitter as conducting an "unreasonable" and unconstitutional search and seizure. Our opinion is currently shared by Congress and the Executive Branch, Title III, Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968, 82 Stat. 212, 18 U. S. C. § 2510 et seq. (1964 ed., Supp. V), and the American Bar Association. Project on Standards for Criminal Justice, Electronic Surveillance § 4.1 (Approved Draft 1971). It is also the result reached by prior cases in this Court. On Lee, supra; Lopez v. United States, supra.

No different result should obtain where, as in On Lee and the instant case, the informer disappears and is unavailable

[ 401 U.S. Page 754]

     at trial; for the issue of whether specified events on a certain day violate the Fourth Amendment should not be determined by what later happens to the informer. His unavailability at trial and proffering the testimony of other agents may raise evidentiary problems or pose issues of prosecutorial misconduct with respect to the informer's disappearance, but they do not appear critical to deciding whether prior events invaded the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights.


The Court of Appeals was in error for another reason. In Desist v. United States, 394 U.S. 244 (1969), we held that our decision in Katz v. United States applied only to those electronic surveillances that occurred subsequent to the date of that decision. Here the events in question took place in late 1965 and early 1966, long prior to Katz. We adhere to the rationale of Desist, see Williams v. United States, ante, p. 646. It was error for the Court of Appeals to dispose of this case based on its understanding of the principles announced in the Katz case. The court should have judged this case by the pre -Katz law and under that law, as On Lee clearly holds, the electronic surveillance here involved did not violate White's rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

It is so ordered.

MR. JUSTICE BLACK, while adhering to his views expressed in Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618, 640 (1965), concurs in the judgment of the Court for the reasons set forth in his dissent in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 364 (1967).


405 F.2d 838, reversed.

[ 401 U.S. Page 755]

     MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring in the result.

I agree that Desist v. United States, 394 U.S. 244 (1969), requires reversal of the judgment of the Court of Appeals. Therefore, a majority of the Court supports disposition of this case on that ground. However, my Brothers DOUGLAS, HARLAN, and WHITE also debate the question whether On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747 (1952), may any longer be regarded as sound law. My Brother WHITE argues that On Lee is still sound law. My Brothers DOUGLAS and HARLAN argue that it is not. Neither position commands the support of a majority of the Court. For myself, I agree with my Brothers DOUGLAS and HARLAN. But I go further. It is my view that the reasoning of both my Brothers DOUGLAS and HARLAN compels the conclusion that Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427 (1963), is also no longer sound law. In other words, it is my view that current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence interposes a warrant requirement not only in cases of third-party electronic monitoring (the situation in On Lee and in this case) but also in cases of electronic recording by a government agent of a face-to-face conversation with a criminal suspect, which was the situation in Lopez. For I adhere to the dissent in Lopez, 373 U.S., at 446-471, in which, to quote my Brother HARLAN, post, at 778 n. 12, "the doctrinal basis of our subsequent Fourteenth Amendment decisions may be said to have had its genesis." Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), adopted that "doctrinal basis" and thus, it seems to me, agreed with the argument in the Lopez dissent that "subsequent decisions and subsequent experience have sapped whatever vitality [ On Lee ] may once have had; that it should now be regarded as overruled" and that the situation in Lopez "is rationally indistinguishable." 373 U.S., at 447. The reasons in support of those conclusions are set forth fully in the Lopez

[ 401 U.S. Page 756]

     dissent and need not be repeated here. It suffices to say that for those reasons I remain of the view that the Fourth Amendment imposes the warrant requirement in both the On Lee and Lopez situations.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.


The issue in this case is clouded and concealed by the very discussion of it in legalistic terms. What the ancients knew as "eavesdropping," we now call "electronic surveillance"; but to equate the two is to treat man's first gunpowder on the same level as the nuclear bomb. Electronic surveillance is the greatest leveler of human privacy ever known. How most forms of it can be held "reasonable" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment is a mystery. To be sure, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are not to be read as covering only the technology known in the 18th century. Otherwise its concept of "commerce" would be hopeless when it comes to the management of modern affairs. At the same time the concepts of privacy which the Founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment vanish completely when we slavishly allow an all-powerful government, proclaiming law and order, efficiency, and other benign purposes, to penetrate all the walls and doors which men need to shield them from the pressures of a turbulent life around them and give them the health and strength to carry on.

That is why a "strict construction" of the Fourth Amendment is necessary if every man's liberty and privacy are to be constitutionally honored.

When Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 21, 1940, authorized wiretapping in cases of "fifth column" activities and sabotage and limited it "insofar as possible to aliens," he said that "under ordinary and normal circumstances

[ 401 U.S. Page 757]

     wire-tapping by Government agents should not be carried on for the excellent reason that it is almost bound to lead to abuse of civil rights." See Appendix I to this dissent. Yet as Judge Ferguson said in United States v. Smith, 321 F.Supp. 424, 429:

"The government seems to approach these dissident domestic organizations in the same fashion as it deals with unfriendly foreign powers. The government cannot act in this manner when only domestic political organizations are involved, even if those organizations espouse views which are inconsistent with our present form of government. To do so is to ride roughshod over numerous political freedoms which have long received constitutional protection. The government can, of course, investigate and prosecute criminal violations whenever these organizations, or rather their individual members, step over the line of political theory and general advocacy and commit illegal acts."

Today no one perhaps notices because only a small, obscure criminal is the victim. But every person is the victim, for the technology we exalt today is everyman's master. Any doubters should read Arthur R. Miller's The Assault On Privacy (1971). After describing the monitoring of conversations and their storage in data banks, Professor Miller goes on to describe "human monitoring" which he calls the "ultimate step in mechanical snooping" -- a device for spotting unorthodox or aberrational behavior across a wide spectrum. "Given the advancing state of both the remote sensing art and the capacity of computers to handle an uninterrupted and synoptic data flow, there seem to be no physical barriers left to shield us from intrusion." Id., at 46.

When one reads what is going on in this area today, our judicial treatment of the subject seems as remote from

[ 401 U.S. Page 758]

     reality as the well-known Baron Parke was remote from the social problems of his day. See Chapman, "Big Brother" in the Justice Department, The Progressive, April 1971, p. 27.


We held in Berger v. New York, 388 U.S. 41, that wiretapping is a search and seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and therefore must meet its requirements, viz., there must be a prior showing of probable cause, the warrant authorizing the wiretap must particularly describe "the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized," and that it may not have the breadth, generality, and long life of the general warrant against which the Fourth Amendment was aimed.

In Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, we held that an electronic device, used without trespass onto any given enclosure (there a telephone booth), was a search for which a Fourth Amendment warrant was needed.*fn1 MR. JUSTICE STEWART, speaking for the Court, said: "Wherever a man may be, he is entitled to know that he will remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures." Id., at 359.

As a result of Berger and of Katz, both wiretapping and electronic surveillance through a "bug" or other device are now covered by the Fourth Amendment.

There were prior decisions representing an opposed view. In On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747, an

[ 401 U.S. Page 759]

     undercover agent with a radio transmitter concealed on his person interviewed the defendant whose words were heard over a radio receiver by another agent down the street. The idea, discredited by Katz, that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment because there was no trespass, was the core of the On Lee decision. Id., at 751-754.

Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427, was also pre -Berger and pre -Katz. The government agent there involved carried a pocket wire recorder which the Court said "was not planted by means of an unlawful physical invasion of petitioner's premises under circumstances which would violate the Fourth Amendment." Id., at 439.

MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, dissenting, stated the philosophy of Katz soon to be adopted:

"There is a qualitative difference between electronic surveillance, whether the agents conceal the devices on their persons or in walls or under beds, and conventional police stratagems such as eavesdropping and disguise. The latter do not so seriously intrude upon the right of privacy. The risk of being overheard by an eavesdropper or betrayed by an informer or deceived as to the identity of one with whom one deals is probably inherent in the conditions of human society. It is the kind of risk we necessarily assume whenever we speak. But as soon as electronic surveillance comes into play, the risk changes crucially. There is no security from that kind of eavesdropping, no way of mitigating the risk, and so not even a residuum of true privacy. . . .

". . . Electronic aids add a wholly new dimension to eavesdropping. They make it more penetrating, more indiscriminate, ...

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