Berger v. New York

388 U.S. 41
Berger v. New York
Argued: April 13, 1967
Decided: June 12, 1967


Showing of exigent circumstances is more important in obtaining eavesdropping permit than when conventional procedures of search and seizure are utilized. U.S.C.A.Const. Amends. 4, 14. Id.m.

[Syllabus from pages 41-42 intentionally omitted]

Joseph E. Brill, New York City, for petitioner.
H. Richard Uviller, New York City, for respondent.
Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Dissenting Opinion

Mr. Justice BLACK, dissenting.

New York has an eavesdropping statute which permits its judges to authorize state officers to place on other people’s premises electronic devices that will overhear and record telephonic and other conversations for the purpose of detecting secret crimes and conspiracies and obtaining evidence to convict criminals in court. Judges cannot issue such eavesdropping permits except upon oath or affirmation of certain state officers that “there is reasonable ground to believe that evidence of crime may be thus obtained, and particularly describing the person or persons whose communications, conversations or discussions are to be overheard or recorded and the purpose thereof * * *.” N.Y.Code Crim.Proc. § 813-a. Evidence obtained by such electronic eavesdropping was used to convict the petitioner here of conspiracy to bribe the chairman of the State Liquor Authority which controls the issuance of liquor licenses in New York. It is stipulated that without this evidence a conviction could not have been obtained and it seems apparent that use of that evidence showed petitioner to be a briber beyond all reasonable doubt. Notwithstanding petitioner’s obvious guilt, however, the Court now strikes down his conviction in a way that plainly makes it impossible ever to convict him again. This is true because the Court not only holds that the judicial orders which were the basis of the authority to eavesdrop were insufficient, but also holds that the New York eavesdropping statute is on its face violative of the Fourth Amendment. And while the Court faintly intimates to the contrary, it seems obvious to me that its holding, by creating obstacles that cannot be overcome, makes it completely impossible for the State or the Federal Government ever to have a valid eavesdropping statute. All of this is done, it seems to me, in part because of the Court’s hostility to eavesdropping as “ignoble” and “dirty business” [1] and in part because of fear that rapidly advancing science and technology is making eavesdropping more and more effective. Cf. Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427, 446, 83 S.Ct. 1381, 1391, 10 L.Ed.2d 462 (dissenting opinion of Brennan, J.). Neither these, nor any other grounds that I can think of, are sufficient in my judgment to justify a holding that the use of evidence secured by eavesdropping is barred by the Constitution.

Perhaps as good a definition of eavesdropping as another is that it is listening secretly and sometimes “snoopily” to conversations and discussions believed to be private by those who engage in them. Needless to say, eavesdropping is not ranked as one of the most learned or most polite professions, nor perhaps would an eavesdropper be selected by many people as the most desirable and attractive associate. But the practice has undoubtedly gone on since the beginning of human society, and during that time it has developed a usefulness of its own, particularly in the detection and prosecution of crime.

Eavesdroppers have always been deemed competent witnesses in English and American courts. The main test of admissibility has been relevance and first-hand knowledge, not by whom or by what method proffered evidence was obtained. It is true that in England people who obtained evidence by unlawful means were held liable in damages as in Entick v. Carrington, 19 How.St.Tr. 1029. But even that famous civil liberties case made no departure from the traditional common-law rule that relevant evidence is admissible, even though obtained contrary to ethics, morals, or law. And, for reasons that follow, this evidentiary rule is well adapted to our Government, set up, as it was, to “insure domestic tranquility” under a system of laws.

Today this country is painfully realizing that evidence of crime is difficult for governments to secure. Criminals are shrewd and constantly seek, too often successfully, to conceal their tracks and their outlawry from law officers. But in carrying or their nefarious practices professional criminals usually talk considerably. Naturally, this talk is done, they hope, in a secret way that will keep it from being heard by law enforcement authorities or by others who might report to the authorities. In this situation “eavesdroppers,” “informers,” and “squealers,” as they are variously called, are helpful, even though unpopular, agents of law enforcement. And it needs no empirical studies or statistics to establish that eavesdropping testimony plays an important role in exposing criminals and bands of criminals who but for such evidence would go along their criminal way with little possibility of exposure, prosecution, or punishment. Such, of course is this particular case before us.

The eavesdrop evidence here shows this petitioner to be a briber, a corrupter of trusted public officials, a poisoner of the honest administration of government, upon which good people must depend to obtain the blessings of a decent orderly society. No man’s privacy, property, liberty, or life is secure, if organized or even unorganized criminals can go their way unmolested, ever and ever further in their unbounded lawlessness. However obnoxious eavesdroppers may be they are assuredly not engaged in a more “ignoble” or “dirty business” than are bribers, thieves, burglars, robbers, rapists, kidnapers, and murderers, not to speak of others. And it cannot be denied that to deal with such specimens of our society, eavesdroppers are not merely useful, they are frequently a necessity. I realize that some may say, “Well, let the prosecuting officers use more scientific measures than eavesdropping.” It is always easy to hint at mysterious means available just around the corner to catch outlaws. But crimes, unspeakably horrid crimes, are with us in this country, and we cannot afford to dispense with any known method of detecting and correcting them unless it is forbidden by the Constitution or deemed inadvisable by legislative policy-neither of which I believe to be true about eavesdropping.

Since eavesdrop evidence obtained by individuals is admissible and helpful I can perceive no permissible reason for courts to reject it, even when obtained surreptitiously by machines, electronic or otherwise. Certainly evidence picked up and recorded on a machine is not less trustworthy. In both perception and retention a machine is more accurate than a human listener. The machine does not have to depend on a defective memory to repeat what was said in its presence for it repeats the very words uttered. I realize that there is complaint that sometimes the words are jumbled or indistinct. But machine evidence need not be done away with to correct such occasional defective recording. The trial judge has ample power to refuse to admit indistinct or garbled recordings.

The plain facts are, however, that there is no inherent danger to a defendnt in using these electronic recordings except that which results from the use of testimony that is so unerringly accurate that it is practically bound to bring about a conviction. In other words, this kind of transcribed eavesdropping evidence is far more likely to lead a judge or jury to reach a correct judgment or verdict-the basic and always-present objective of a trial.

The superior quality of evidence recorded and transcribed on an electronic device is, of course, no excuse for using it against a defendant, if, as the Court holds, its use violates the Fourth Amendment. If that is true, no amount of common-law tradition or anything else can justify admitting such evidence. But I do not believe the Fourth Amendment, or any other, bans the use of evidence obtained by eavesdropping.

There are constitutional amendments that speak in clear unambiguous prohibitions or commands. The First, for illustration, declares that “Congress shall make no law * * * abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press * * *.” The Fifth declares that a person shall not be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime except on a grand jury indictment; shall not twice be put in jeopardy of life or limb for the same offense; nor be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. These provisions of the First and Fifth Amendments, as well as others I need not mention at this time, are clear unconditional commands that something shall not be done. Particularly of interest in comparison with the Fourth Amendment is the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against compelling a person to be a witness against himself. The Fifth Amendment’s language forbids a court to hear evidence against a person that he has been compelled to give, without regard to reasonableness or anything else. Unlike all of these just-named Fifth Amendment provisions, the Fourth Amendment relating to searches and seizures contains no such unequivocal commands. It provides:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Obviously, those who wrote this Fourth Amendment knew from experience that searches and seizures were too valuable to law enforcement to prohibit them entirely, but also knew at the same time that while searches or seizures must not be stopped, they should be slowed down, and warrants should be issued only after studied caution. This accounts for use of the imprecise and flexible term, “unreasonable,” the key word permeating this whole Amendment. Also it is noticeable that this Amendment contains no appropriate language, as does the Fifth, to forbid the use and introduction of search and seizure evidence even though secured “unreasonably.” Nor does this Fourth Amendment attempt to describe with precision what was meant by its words, “probable cause”; nor by whom the “Oath or affirmation” should be taken; nor what it need contain. Although the Amendment does specifically say that the warrant should particularly describe “the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized,” it does not impose any precise limits on the spatial or temporal extent of the search or the quantitative extent of the seizure. Thus this Amendment, aimed against only “unreasonable” searches and seizures, seeks to guard against them by providing, as the Court says, that a “neutral and detached authority be interposed between the police and the public, Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14, 68 S.Ct. 367, 369, 92 L.Ed. 436.” And, as the Court admits, the Amendment itself provides no sanctions to enforce its standards of searches, seizures, and warrants. This was left for Congress to carry out if it chose to do so.

Had the framers of this Amenme nt desired to prohibit the use in court of evidence secured by an unreasonable search or seizure, they would have used plain appropriate language to do so, just as they did in prohibiting the use of enforced self-incriminatory evidence in the Fifth Amendment. Since the Fourth Amendment contains no language forbidding the use of such evidence, I think there is no such constitutional rule. So I continue to believe that the exclusionary rule formulated to bar such evidence in the Weeks [2] case is not rooted in the Fourth Amendment but rests on the ‘supervisory power’ of this Court over the other federal courts the same judicial power invoked in McNabb v. United States, 318 U.S. 332, 63 S.Ct. 608, 87 L.Ed. 819. See my concurring opinions in Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 39, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 1367, 93 L.Ed. 1782, and Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 661, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 1694, 6 L.ed.2d 1081. [3] For these reasons and others to be stated, I do not believe the Fourth Amendment standing alone, even if applicable to electronic eavesdropping, commands exclusion of the overheard evidence in this case.

In reaching my conclusion that the Fourth Amendment itself does not bar the use of eavesdropping evidence in courts, I do not overlook the fact that the Court at present is reading the Amendment as expressly and unqualifiedly barring invasions of “privacy” rather then merely forbidding “unreasonable searches and seizures.” On this premise of the changed command of the Amendment, the Court’s task in passing on the use of eavesdropping evidence becomes a simple one. Its syllogism is this:

The Fourth Amendment forbids invasion of privacy and excludes evidence obtained by such invasion;

To listen secretly to a man’s conversations or to tap his telephone conversations invades his privacy;

Therefore, the Fourth Amendment bars use of evidence obtained by eavesdropping or by tapping telephone wires.

The foregoing syllogism is faulty for at least two reasons: (1) the Fourth Amendment itself contains no provision from which can be implied a purpose to bar evidence or anything else secured by an “unreasonable search or seizure”; (2) the Fourth Amendment’s language, fairly construed, refers specifically to “unreasonable searches and seizures” and not to a broad undefined right to “privacy” in general. To attempt to transform the meaning of the Amendment, as the Court does here, is to pay sleight-of-hand tricks with it. It is impossible for me to think that the wise Framers of the Fourth Amendment would ever have dreamed about drafting an amendment to protect the “right of privacy.” That expression, like a chameleon, has a different color for every turning. In fact, use of “privacy” as the keyword in the Fourth Amendment simply gives this Court a useful new tool, as I see it, both to usurp the policy-making power of the Congress and to hold more state and federal laws unconstitutional when the Court entertains a sufficient hostility to them. I therefore cannot agree to hold New York’s law unconstitutional on the premise that all laws that unreasonably invade privacy violate the Fourth Amendment.

While the electronic eavesdropping here bears some analogy to the problems with which the Fourth Amendment is concerned, I am by no means satisfied that the Amendment controls the constitutionality of such eavesdropping. As pointed out, the Amendment only bans searches and seizures of “persons, houses, papers, and effects.” This literal language imports tangible things, and it would require an expansion of the language se d by the framers, in the interest of “privacy” or some equally vague judge-made goal, to hold that it applies to the spoken word. It simply requires an imaginative transformation of the English language to say that conversations can be searched and words seized. Referring to wiretapping, this Court in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 465, 48 S.Ct. 564, 72 L.Ed. 944, refused to make that transformation:

“Justice Bradley in the Boyd Case, and Justice Clarke in the Gouled case, said that the Fifth Amendment and the Fourth Amendment were to be liberally construed * * *. But that cannot justify enlargement of the language employed beyond the possible practical meaning of houses, persons, papers, and effects, or so to apply the words search and seizure as to forbid hearing or sight.”

Though Olmstead has been severely criticized by various individual members of this Court, and though the Court stated an alternative ground for holding the Amendment inapplicable in that case, the Olmstead holding that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to efforts to hear and obtain oral conversations has never been overruled by this Court. The Court today, however, suggests that this holding has been “negated” by subsequent congressional action and by four decisions of this Court. First, the Court intimates, though it does not exactly state, that Congress “in answer to Olmstead,” passed an Act to prohibit “the interception without authorization and the divulging or publishing of the contents of telephonic communications.” The Court cites no authority for this strange surmise, and I assert with confidence that none can be recited. And even if it could, Congress” action would not have the slightest relevance to the scope of the Fourth Amendment. Second, the Court cites Goldman v. United States, 316 U.S. 129, 62 S.Ct. 993, 86 L.Ed. 1322, and On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747, 72 S.Ct. 967, 96 L.Ed. 1270, in an effort to explain away Olmstead. But neither of those cases purported to repudiate the Olmstead case or any part of it. In fact, in both of those cases the Court refused to exclude the challenged eavesdrop evidence. Finally, the Court relies on Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 81 S.Ct. 679, 5 L.Ed.2d 734, and Wong Sun v. United States, 371 U.S. 471, 83 S.Ct. 407, 9 L.Ed.2d 441. In both of these cases the Court did imply that the “Fourth Amendment may protect against the overhearing of verbal statements as well as against the more traditional seizure of ‘papers and effects,’ ” 371 U.S., at 485, 83 S.Ct., at 416 (emphasis added), but in neither did the Court find it necessary to overrule Olmstead, an action that would have been required had the Court based its exclusion of the oral conversations solely on the ground of the Fourth Amendment. The fact is that both Silverman and Wong Sun were federal cases dealing with the use of verbal evidence in federal courts, and the Court held the evidence should be excluded by virtue of the exclusionary rule of the Weeks case. As I have previously pointed out, that rule rested on the Court’s supervisory power over federal courts, not on the Fourth Amendment: it is not required by the Amendment, nor is a violation of the Amendment a prerequisite to its application. I would not have agreed with the Court’s opinion in Silverman, which, by the way, cited Olmstead with approval, had I thought that the result depended on finding a violation of the Fourth Amendment or had I any inkling that the Court’s general statements about the scope of the Amendment were intended to negate the clear holding of Olmstead. And again in Wong Sun, which did not even mention Olmstead, let alone overrule it, the Court clearly based its exclusion of oral statements made to federal agents during an illegal arrest on its supervisory power to deter lawless conduct by federal officers and on the alternative ground that the incriminating statements were made under compulsive circumstances and were not the product of a free will. t is impossible for me to read into that noneavesdropping federal case an intent to overrule Olmstead implicitly. In short, the only way this Court can escape Olmstead here is to overrule it. Without expressly saying so, the Court’s opinion, as my Brother DOUGLAS acknowledges, does just that. And that overruling is accomplished by the simple expedient of substituting for the Amendment’s words, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,” the words “The right of the people to be secure in their privacy,” words the Court believes the Framers should have used, but did not. I have frequently stated my opposition to such judicial substitution. Although here the Court uses it to expand the scope of the Fourth Amendment to include words, the Court has been applying the same process to contract the Fifth Amendment’s privilege against self-incrimination so as to exclude all types of incriminating evidence but words, or what the Court prefers to call “testimonial evidence.” See United States v. Wade, 388 U.S. 218, 87 S.Ct. 1926, 18 L.Ed.2d 1149, Gilbert v. State of California, 388 U.S. 263, 87 S.Ct. 1951, 18 L.Ed.2d 1178.

There is yet another reason why I would adhere to the holding of Olmstead that the Fourth Amendment does not apply to eavesdropping. Since the Framers in the first clause of the Amendment specified that only persons, houses, and things were to be protected, they obviously wrote the second clause, regulating search warrants, in reference only to such tangible things. To hold, as the Court does, that the first clause protects words, necessitates either a virtual rewriting of the particularity requirements of the Warrant Clause or a literal application of that clause’s requirements and our cases construing them to situations they were never designed to cover. I am convinced that the Framers of the Amendment never intended this Court to do either, and yet it seems to me clear that the Court here does a little or both.

Assuming, as the Court holds, that the Fourth Amendment applies to eavesdropping and that the evidence obtained by an eavesdrop which violates the Fourth Amendment must be excluded in state courts, I disagree with the Court’s holding that the New York statute on its face fails to comport with the Amendment. I also agree with my Brother WHITE that the statute as here applied did not violate any of petitioner’s Fourth Amendment rights assuming again that he has some-and that he is not entitled to a reversal of his conviction merely because the statute might have been applied in some way that would not have accorded with the Amendment.

This case deals only with a trespassory eavesdrop, an eavesdrop accomplished by placing “bugging” devices in certain officers. Significantly, the Court does not purport to disturb the Olmstead-Silverman-Goldman distinction between eavesdrops which are accompanied by a physical invasion and those that are not. Neither does the Court purport to overrule the holdings of On Lee v. United States, 343 U.S. 747, 72 S.Ct. 967, 96 L.Ed. 1270, and Lopez v. United States, 373 U.S. 427, 83 S.Ct. 1381, 10 L.Ed.2d 462, which exempt from the amendment’s requirements the use of an electronic device to record, and perhaps even transmit, a conversation to which the user is a party. It is thus clear that at least certain types of electronic eavesdropping, until today, were completely outside the scope of the Fourth Amendment. Nevertheless, New York has made it a crime to engage in almost any kind of electronic eavesdropping, N.Y.Penal Law § 738, and the only way eavesdropping, even the kind this Court has held constitutional, can be accomplished with immunity from criminal punishment is pursuant to § 813-a of the Code of Criminal Procedure, N.Y.Penal Law § 739. The Court now strikes down § 813-a in its entirety, and that may well have the result of making it impossible for state law enforcement officers merely to listen though a closed door by means of an investd cone or some other crude amplifying device, eavesdropping which this Court has to date refused to hold violative of the Fourth Amendment. Certainly there is no justification for striking down completely New York’s statute, covering all kinds of eavesdropping, merely because it fails to contain the “strict precautions” which the Court derives-or more accurately fabricates-as conditions to eavesdrops covered by the Fourth Amendment. In failing to distinguish between types of eavesdropping and in failing to make clear that the New York statute is invalid only as applied to certain kinds of eavesdropping, the Court’s opinion leaves the definite impression that all eavesdropping is governed by the Fourth Amendment. Such a step would require overruling of almost every opinion this Court has ever written on the subject. Indeed, from the Court’s eavesdropping catalogue of horrors-electronic rays beamed at walls, lapel and cuff-link miscrophones, and off-premise parabolic microphones-it does not take too much insight to see that the Court is about ready to do, if it has not today done, just that.

I agree with my Brother WHITE that instead of looking for technical defects in the language of the New York statute, the Court should examine the actual circumstances of its application in this case to determine whether petitioner’s rights have here been violated. That to me seems to be the unavoidable task in any search and seizure case: was the particular search and seizure reasonable or not? We have just this Term held that a search and seizure without a warrant and even without authorization of a state law, can nevertheless, under all the circumstances, be “reasonable” for Fourth Amendment purposes. Cooper v. State of California, 386 U.S. 58, 87 S.Ct. 788, 17 L.Ed.2d 730. I do not see why that court not be equally true in the case of a search and seizure with a warrant and pursuant to a state law, even though the state law is itself too broad to be valid. Certainly a search and seizure may comply with the Fourth Amendment even in the absence of an authorizing statute which embodies the Amendment’s requirements. Osborn v. United States, 385 U.S. 323, 87 S.Ct. 429, 17 L.Ed.2d 394, upon which the Court so heavily relies, is a good example of a case where the Court sustained the tape recording of a conversation by examining the particular circumstances surrounding it, even though no federal statute prescribed the precautions taken by the district judges there. Here New York has gone much further than the Federal Government and most of the States to outlaw all eavesdropping except under the limited circumstances of § 813-a, a statute which, as I shall demonstrate, contains many more safeguards than the Fourth Amendment itself. But today New York fares far worse than those States which have done nothing to implement and supplement the Fourth Amendment: it must release a convicted criminal, not because it has deprived him of constitutional rights, but because it has inartfully (according to the Court) tried to guarantee him those rights. The New York statute aside, the affidavits in this case were sufficient to justify a finding of probable cause, and the ex parte eavesdrop orders identified the person whose conversations were to be overheard, the place where the eavesdropping was to take place, and, when read in reference to the supporting affidavits, the type of conversations sought, i.e., those relating to extortion and bribery.

The Court concludes its analysis of § 813-a by asserting that ‘the statute’s blanket grant of permission to eavesdrop is without adequate judicial supervision or protective procedures.’ Even if the Court’s fear that “(f)ew threats to liberty exist which are greater than that posed by the use of eavesdropping devices” justifies it in rewriting the Fourth Amendment to impose on eavesdroppers “strict precautions” which are not imposed on other searchers, it is an undeserved criticism of New York to characterize its studied efforts o regulate eavesdropping as resulting in a statute “without adequate judicial supervision or protective procedures.” Let us look at the New York statute. It provides:

(1) New York judges are to issue authorizations. (The Fourth Amendment does not command any such desirable judicial participation.)

(2) The judge must have an “oath” from New York officials. (The Fourth Amendment does not specify who must execute the oath it requires.)

(3) The oath must state “reasonable ground to believe that evidence of crime may be thus obtained,” and the judge may examine the affiant and any other witnesses to make certain that this is the case. (The Fourth Amendment requires a showing of “probable cause,” but the Court does not dispute New York’s assertion that “reasonable ground” and “probable cause” are the same. The Amendment does not specify, as the New York statute does, a procedure by which the judge may “satisfy himself” of the existence of probable cause.) (4) The “person or persons whose communications, conversations or discussions are to be overheard or recorded and the purpose thereof” must be particularly described. (In the case of conversation is would seem impossible to require a more particular description than this. Tangible things in existence at the time a warrant for their seizure is issued could be more particularly described, but the only way to describe future conversations is by a description of the anticipated subject matter of the conversation. When the “purpose” of the eavesdropping is stated, the subject of the conversation sought to be seized is readily recognizable. Nothing more was required in Osborn; nothing more should be required here.)

(5) The eavesdrop order must be limited in time to no more than two months. (The Fourth Amendment merely requires that the place to be searched be described. It does not require the warrant to limit the time of a search, and it imposes no limit, other than that of reasonableness, on the dimensions of the place to be searched.)

Thus, it seems impossible for the Court to condemn this statute on the ground that it lacks ‘adequate judicial supervision or protective procedures.’ Rather, the only way the Court can invalidate it is to find it lacking in some of the safeguards which the Court today fashions without any reference to the language of the Fourth Amendment whatsoever. In fact, from the deficiencies the Court finds in the New York statute, it seems that the Court would be compelled to strike down a state statute which merely tracked verbatim the language of the Fourth Amendment itself. First, the Court thinks the affidavits or the orders must particularize the crime being committed. The Fourth Amendment’s particularity requirement relates to the place searched and the thing seized, not to the crime being committed. Second, the Court holds that two months for an eavesdrop order to be outstanding is too long. There are, however, no time limits of any kind in the Fourth Amendment other than the notion that a search should not last longer than reasonably necessary to search the place described in the warrant, and the extent of that place may also be limited by the concept of reasonableness. The Court does not explain why two months, regardless of the circumstances, is per se an unreasonable length of time to accomplish a verbal search. Third, the Court finds the statute deficient in not providing for a termination of the eavesdrop once the object is obtained and in not providing for a return of the warrant at that time. Where in the Fourth Amendment. does the Court think it possible to find these requirements? Finally, the Court makes the fantastic suggestion that the eavesdropper must give notice to the person whose conversation is to be overheard or that the eavesdropper must show “exigent circumstances” before he can perform his eavesdrop without consent. Now, if never before, the Court’s purpose is clear: it is determined to ban all eavesdropping. As the Court rco gnizes, eavesdropping “necessarily * * * depends on secrecy.” Since secrecy is an essential, indeed a definitional, element of eavesdropping, when the Court says there shall be no eavesdropping without notice, the Court means to inform the Nation there shall be no eavesdropping-period.

It should now be clear that in order to strike down the New York law the Court has been compelled to rewrite completely the Fourth Amendment. By substituting the word “privacy” for the language of the first clause of the Amendment, the Court expands the scope of the Amendment to include oral conversations; then by applying the literal particularity requirements of the second clause without adjustment for the Court’s expansion of the Amendment’s scope, the Court makes constitutional eavesdropping improbable; and finally, by inventing requirements found in neither clause-requirements with which neither New York nor any other State can possibly comply-the Court makes such eavesdropping impossible. If the Fourth Amendment does not ban all searches and seizures, I do not see how it can possibly ban all eavesdrops.

As I see it, the differences between the Court and me in this case rest on different basic beliefs as to our duty in interpreting the Constitution. This basic charter of our Government was written in few words to define governmental powers generally on the one hand and to define governmental limitations on the other. I believe it is the Court’s duty to interpret these grants and limitations so as to carry out as nearly as possible the original intent of the Framers. But I do not believe that it is our duty to go further than the Framers did on the theory that the judges are charged with responsibility for keeping the Constitution “up to date.” Of course, where the Constitution has stated a broad purpose to be accomplished under any circumstances, we must consider that modern science has made it necessary to use new means in accomplishing the Framers’ goal. A good illustration of this is the Commerce Clause which gives Congress power to regulate commerce between the States however it may be carried on, whether by ox wagons or jet planes. But the Fourth Amendment gives no hint that it was designed to put an end to the age-old practice of using eavesdropping to combat crime. If changes in that Amendment are necessary, due to contemporary human reaction to technological advances, I think those changes should be accomplished by amendments, as the Constitution itself provides.

Then again, a constitution like ours is not designed to be a full code of laws as some of our States and some foreign countries have made theirs. And if constitutional provisions require new rules and sanctions to make them as fully effective as might be desired my belief is that calls for action, not by us, but by Congress or state legislatures, vested with powers to choose between conflicting policies. Here, for illustration, there are widely diverging views about eavesdropping. Some would make it a crime, barring it absolutely and in all events; others would bar it except in searching for evidence in the field of “national security,” whatever that means; still others would pass no law either authorizing or forbidding it, leaving it to follow its natural course. This is plainly the type of question that can and should be decided by legislative bodies, unless some constitutional provision expressly governs the matter, just as the Fifth Amendment expressly forbids enforced self-incrimination. There is no such express prohibition in the Fourth Amendment nor can one be implied. The Fourth Amendment can only be made to prohibit or to regulate eavesdropping by taking away some of its words and by adding others.

Both the States and the National Government are at present confronted with a crime problem that threatens the peace, order, and tranquility of the people. There are, as I have pointed out, some constitutional commands that leave no room for doubt-certain procedures mut be followed by courts regardless of how much more difficult they make it to convict and punish for crime. These commands we should enforce firmly and to the letter. But my objection to what the Court does today is the picking out of a broad general provision against unreasonable searches and seizures and the erecting out of it a constitutional obstacle against electronic eavesdropping that makes it impossible for lawmakers to overcome. Honest men may rightly differ on the potential dangers or benefits inherent in electronic eavesdropping and wiretapping. See Lopez v. United States, supra. But that is the very reason that legislatures, like New York’s should be left free to pass laws about the subject, rather than be told that the Constitution forbids it on grounds no more forceful than the Court has been able to muster in this case.


^1  Mr. Justice Holmes dissenting in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 470, 48 S.Ct. 564. 575, 72 L.Ed. 944.

^2  Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383, 34 S.Ct. 341, 58 L.Ed. 652. Compare Adams v. People of State of New York, 192 U.S. 585, 24 S.Ct. 372, 48 L.Ed. 575.

^3  I concurred in Mapp because “(t)he close interrelationship between the Fourth and Fifth Amendments,” 367 U.S., at 662, 81 S.Ct., at 1695, as they applied to the facts of that case required the exclusion there of the unconstitutionally seized evidence.

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