Learn About the Law
Get help with your legal needs
FindLaw’s Learn About the Law features thousands of informational articles to help you understand your options. And if you’re ready to hire an attorney, find one in your area who can help.
Having reason to believe that one Armstrong was purchasing chloroform to be used in the manufacture of illicit drugs, Minnesota law enforcement officers arranged with the seller to place a beeper (a radio transmitter) inside a chloroform container that was sold to Armstrong. Officers then followed the car in which the chloroform was placed, maintaining contact by using both visual surveillance and a monitor which received the beeper signals, and ultimately tracing the chloroform, by beeper monitoring alone, to respondent's secluded cabin in Wisconsin. Following three days of intermittent visual surveillance of the cabin, officers secured a search warrant and discovered the chloroform container, and a drug laboratory in the cabin, including chemicals and formulas for producing amphetamine. After his motion to suppress evidence based on the warrantless monitoring of the beeper was denied, respondent was convicted in Federal District Court for conspiring to manufacture controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the monitoring of the beeper was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.
Monitoring the beeper signals did not invade any legitimate expectation of privacy on respondent's part, and thus there was neither a "search" nor a "seizure" within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment. The beeper surveillance amounted principally to following an automobile on public streets and highways. A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements. While respondent had the traditional expectation of privacy within a dwelling place insofar as his cabin was concerned, such expectation of privacy would not have extended to the visual observation from public places of the automobile arriving on his premises after leaving a public highway, or to movements of objects such as the chloroform container outside the cabin. The fact that the officers relied not only on visual surveillance, but also on the use of the beeper, does not alter the situation. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment prohibited the police from augmenting their sensory faculties with such enhancement as science and technology afforded them in this case. There is no indication that the beeper was used in any way to reveal information as to the movement of the chloroform container within the [460 U.S. 276, 277] cabin, or in any way that would not have been visible to the naked eye from outside the cabin. Pp. 280-285.
662 F.2d 515, reversed.
REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C. J., and WHITE, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 285. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN, MARSHALL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post, p. 287. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 288.
Deputy Solicitor General Frey argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Jensen, Elliott Schulder, and Gloria C. Phares.
Mark W. Peterson argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent.
JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.
A beeper is a radio transmitter, usually battery operated, which emits periodic signals that can be picked up by a radio receiver. In this case, a beeper was placed in a five-gallon drum containing chloroform purchased by one of respondent's codefendants. By monitoring the progress of a car carrying the chloroform Minnesota law enforcement agents were able to trace the can of chloroform from its place of purchase in Minneapolis, Minn., to respondent's secluded cabin near Shell Lake, Wis. The issue presented by the case is whether such use of a beeper violated respondent's rights secured by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Respondent and two codefendants were charged in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota with conspiracy to manufacture controlled substances, including but not limited to methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846. One of the codefendants, Darryl Petschen, [460 U.S. 276, 278] was tried jointly with respondent; the other codefendant, Tristan Armstrong, pleaded guilty and testified for the Government at trial.
Suspicion attached to this trio when the 3M Co., which manufactures chemicals in St. Paul, notified a narcotics investigator for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension that Armstrong, a former 3M employee, had been stealing chemicals which could be used in manufacturing illicit drugs. Visual surveillance of Armstrong revealed that after leaving the employ of 3M Co., he had been purchasing similar chemicals from the Hawkins Chemical Co. in Minneapolis. The Minnesota narcotics officers observed that after Armstrong had made a purchase, he would deliver the chemicals to codefendant Petschen.
With the consent of the Hawkins Chemicals Co., officers installed a beeper inside a five-gallon container of chloroform, one of the so-called "precursor" chemicals used to manufacture illicit drugs. Hawkins agreed that when Armstrong next purchased chloroform, the chloroform would be placed in this particular container. When Armstrong made the purchase, officers followed the car in which the chloroform had been placed, maintaining contact by using both visual surveillance and a monitor which received the signals sent from the beeper.
Armstrong proceeded to Petschen's house, where the container was transferred to Petschen's automobile. Officers then followed that vehicle eastward towards the state line, across the St. Croix River, and into Wisconsin. During the latter part of this journey, Petschen began making evasive maneuvers, and the pursuing agents ended their visual surveillance. At about the same time officers lost the signal from the beeper, but with the assistance of a monitoring device located in a helicopter the approximate location of the signal was picked up again about one hour later. The signal now was stationary and the location identified was a cabin occupied by respondent near Shell Lake, Wis. The record before us does not reveal that the beeper was used after the [460 U.S. 276, 279] location in the area of the cabin had been initially determined.
Relying on the location of the chloroform derived through the use of the beeper and additional information obtained during three days of intermittent visual surveillance of respondent's cabin, officers secured a search warrant. During execution of the warrant, officers discovered a fully operable, clandestine drug laboratory in the cabin. In the laboratory area officers found formulas for amphetamine and methamphetamine, over $10,000 worth of laboratory equipment, and chemicals in quantities sufficient to produce 14 pounds of pure amphetamine. Under a barrel outside the cabin, officers located the five-gallon container of chloroform.
After his motion to suppress evidence based on the warrantless monitoring of the beeper was denied, respondent was convicted for conspiring to manufacture controlled substances in violation of 21 U.S.C. 846. He was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed the conviction, finding that the monitoring of the beeper was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment because its use had violated respondent's reasonable expectation of privacy, and that all information derived after the location of the cabin was a fruit of the illegal beeper monitoring. * 662 F.2d 515 [460 U.S. 276, 280] (1981). We granted certiorari, 457 U.S. 1131 (1982), and we now reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.
In Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928), this Court held that the wiretapping of a defendant's private telephone line did not violate the Fourth Amendment because the wiretapping had been effectuated without a physical trespass by the Government. Justice Brandeis, joined by Justice Stone, dissented from that decision, believing that the actions of the Government in that case constituted an "unjustifiable intrusion . . . upon the privacy of the individual," and therefore a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Id., at 478. Nearly 40 years later, in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), the Court overruled Olmstead saying that the Fourth Amendment's reach "cannot turn upon the presence or absence of a physical intrusion into any given enclosure." 389 U.S., at 353 . The Court said:
A person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another. When Petschen traveled over the public streets he voluntarily conveyed to anyone who wanted to look the fact that he was traveling over particular [460 U.S. 276, 282] roads in a particular direction, the fact of whatever stops he made, and the fact of his final destination when he exited from public roads onto private property.
Respondent Knotts, as the owner of the cabin and surrounding premises to which Petschen drove, undoubtedly had the traditional expectation of privacy within a dwelling place insofar as the cabin was concerned:
Visual surveillance from public places along Petschen's route or adjoining Knotts' premises would have sufficed to reveal all of these facts to the police. The fact that the officers in this case relied not only on visual surveillance, but also on the use of the beeper to signal the presence of Petschen's automobile to the police receiver, does not alter the situation. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment prohibited the police from augmenting the sensory faculties bestowed upon them at birth with such enhancement as science and technology afforded them in this case. In United States v. Lee, 274 U.S. 559 (1927), the Court said: [460 U.S. 276, 283]
Respondent specifically attacks the use of the beeper insofar as it was used to determine that the can of chloroform had come to rest on his property at Shell Lake, Wis. He repeatedly challenges the "use of the beeper to determine the location of the chemical drum at Respondent's premises," Brief for Respondent 26; he states that "[t]he government thus overlooks the fact that this case involves the sanctity of Respondent's residence, which is accorded the greatest protection available under the Fourth Amendment." Ibid. The Court of Appeals appears to have rested its decision on this ground:
We thus return to the question posed at the beginning of our inquiry in discussing Katz, supra; did monitoring the beeper signals complained of by respondent invade any legitimate expectation of privacy on his part? For the reasons previously stated, we hold it did not. Since it did not, there was neither a "search" nor a "seizure" within the contemplation of the Fourth Amendment. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is therefore
[ Footnote * ] Respondent does not challenge the warrantless installation of the beeper in the chloroform container, suggesting in oral argument that he did not believe he had standing to make such a challenge. We note that while several Courts of Appeals have approved warrantless installations, see United States v. Bernard, 625 F.2d 854 (CA9 1980); United States v. Lewis, 621 F.2d 1382 (CA5 1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 935 (1981); United States v. Bruneau, 594 F.2d 1190 (CA8), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 847 (1979); United States v. Miroyan, 577 F.2d 489 (CA9), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 896 (1978); United States v. Cheshire, 569 F.2d 887 (CA5), cert. denied, 437 U.S. 907 (1978); United States v. Curtis, 562 F.2d 1153 (CA9 1977), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 910 (1978); United States v. Abel, 548 F.2d 591 (CA5), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 956 (1977); United States v. Hufford, 539 F.2d 32 (CA9), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1002 (1976), we have not before and do not now pass on the issue.
JUSTICE BRENNAN, with whom JUSTICE MARSHALL joins, concurring in the judgment.
I join JUSTICE BLACKMUN'S and JUSTICE STEVENS' opinions concurring in the judgment. I should add, however, [460 U.S. 276, 286] that I think this would have been a much more difficult case if respondent had challenged, not merely certain aspects of the monitoring of the beeper installed in the chloroform container purchased by respondent's compatriot, but also its original installation. See ante, at 279, n. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), made quite clear that the Fourth Amendment protects against governmental invasions of a person's reasonable "expectation[s] of privacy," even when those invasions are not accompanied by physical intrusions. Cases such as Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 509 -512 (1961), however, hold that, when the Government does engage in physical intrusion of a constitutionally protected area in order to obtain information, that intrusion may constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment even if the same information could have been obtained by other means. I do not believe that Katz, or its progeny, have eroded that principle. Cf. The Supreme Court, 1979 Term, 94 Harv. L. Rev. 75, 203-204 (1980).
I am also entirely unconvinced by the Court of Appeals' footnote disposing of the installation issue with the statement: "we hold that the consent of the owner [of the chloroform drum] at the time of installation meets the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, even if the consenting owner intends to soon sell the `bugged' property to an unsuspecting buyer. Caveat emptor." 662 F.2d 515, 517, n. 2 (1981) (citation omitted). The Government is not here defending against a claim for damages in an action for breach of a warranty; it is attempting to justify the legality of a search conducted in the course of a criminal investigation. I am not at all sure that, for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, there is a constitutionally significant difference between planting a beeper in an object in the possession of a criminal suspect and purposefully arranging that he be sold an object that, unknown to him, already has a beeper installed inside it. Cf. Gouled v. United States, 255 U.S. 298, 305 -306 (1921); Lewis v. United States, 385 U.S. 206, 211 (1966). [460 U.S. 276, 287]
Respondent claimed at oral argument that, under this Court's cases, he would not have standing to challenge the original installation of the beeper in the chloroform drum because the drum was sold, not to him, but to one of his compatriots. See ante, at 279, n. If respondent is correct, that would only confirm for me the formalism and confusion in this Court's recent attempts to redefine Fourth Amendment standing. See Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U.S. 98, 114 (1980) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting); Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 156 (1978) (WHITE, J., dissenting).
JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE MARSHALL, and JUSTICE STEVENS join, concurring in the judgment.
The Court's opinion gratuitously refers to the "open fields" doctrine and twice cites Hester v. United States, 265 U.S. 57 (1924). Ante, at 282 and 285. For me, the present case does not concern the open fields doctrine, and I regard these references and citations as unnecessary for the Court's decision. Furthermore, and most important, cases concerning the open fields doctrine have been accepted by the Court for argument and plenary consideration. State v. Brady, 406 So.2d 1093 (Fla.), cert. granted, 456 U.S. 988 (1982); United States v. Oliver, 686 F.2d 356 (CA6 1982), cert. granted, 459 U.S. 1168 (1983). See also United States v. Dunn, 674 F.2d 1093 (CA5 1982), cert. pending, No. 82-508.
It would be unfortunate to provide either side in these granted cases with support, directly or by implication, for its position, and I surely do not wish to decide those cases in this one. Although the Court does not indicate its view on how such cases should be decided, I would defer all comments about open fields to a case that concerns that subject and in which we have the benefit of briefs and oral argument.
I therefore do not join the Court's opinion. I concur only in the result it reaches. [460 U.S. 276, 288]
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN, and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, concurring in the judgment.
Since the respondent in this case has never questioned the installation of the radio transmitter in the chloroform drum, see ante, at 279, n., I agree that it was entirely reasonable for the police officers to make use of the information received over the airwaves when they were trying to ascertain the ultimate destination of the chloroform. I do not join the Court's opinion, however, because it contains two unnecessarily broad dicta: one distorts the record in this case, and both may prove confusing to courts that must apply this decision in the future.
First, the Court implies that the chloroform drum was parading in "open fields" outside of the cabin, in a manner tantamount to its public display on the highways. See ante, at 282. The record does not support that implication. As JUSTICE BLACKMUN points out, this case does not pose any "open fields" issue.
Second, the Court suggests that the Fourth Amendment does not inhibit "the police from augmenting the sensory faculties bestowed upon them at birth with such enhancement as science and technology afforded them." Ibid. But the Court held to the contrary in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967). Although the augmentation in this case was unobjectionable, it by no means follows that the use of electronic detection techniques does not implicate especially sensitive concerns.
Accordingly, I concur in the judgment. [460 U.S. 276, 289]
Response sent, thank you
A free source of state and federal court opinions, state laws, and the United States Code. For more information about the legal concepts addressed by these cases and statutes visit FindLaw's Learn About the Law.
Citation: 460 U.S. 276
Docket No: No. 81-1802
Decided: March 02, 1983
Court: United States Supreme Court
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)
FindLaw for Legal Professionals
Search our directory by legal issue
Enter information in one or both fields (Required)