The petitioner Mr. Katz was arrested for illegal gambling, he had been gambling
over a public phone. The FBI attached an electronic recorder onto the outside of the
public phone booth. The state courts claimed this to be legal because the recording device
was on the outside of the phone and the FBI never entered the booth. The Supreme Court
Ruled in the favor of Katz. They stated that the Fourth Amendment allowed for the
protection of a person and not just a persons property against illegal searches. The Fourth
Amendment written in 1791 states,
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 (Galloway 214).
The court was unsure on weather or not they should consider a public telephone booth as
an area protected by the fourth amendment. The court did state that:
The Fourth Amendment protects people, not places. What a person
knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a
subject of Fourth Amendment protection. But what he seeks to preserve as
private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally
protected…Searches conducted without warrants have been held unlawful
notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause, for the
Constitution requires that the deliberate impartial judgment of a judicial
officer be interposed between the citizen and the police (Maddex 201).
The FBI agents found out the days and times he would use the pay phone. The
FBI attached a tape recorder to the outside of the telephone booth. The FBI recorded him
using the phone six different times, all six conversations were around three minutes long.
They made sure that they only recorded him and not anyone elses conversations. Katz
lost the case all the way up to the Supreme Court because the state courts and the Court
of Appeals said there was no amendment violation since there was no physical entrance
into the area occupied by the petitioner (Hall 482). The Constitutional Fourth
Amendment was looked at and analyzed very carefully and the Surpreme Court decided in
favor of Katz with a seven to one vote. Strong arguments were brought to the stand, the
Governments eavesdropping violated the privacy of Katz. The Fourth Amendment
governs not only the seizure of tangible items but extends as well the recording of oral
statements (Katzen 1). The surveillance in this case could have been legal by the
constitution, but it was not part of the warrant issued. Warrants are very valuable to make
everything stated in the fourth amendment legal. The telephone booth was made of glass
so he was visible to the public, but he did not enter the booth so no one could see him, he
entered the booth so no one could hear him. A person in a telephone booth is under
protection of the Fourth Amendment,
One who occupies it, shuts the door behind him, and pays the toll that
permits him to place a call is surly entitled to assume that the words he
utters into the mouthpiece will not be broadcasted to the world. To read
the constitution more narrowly is to ignore the vital role that the public
telephone has to come to play in private communication (Katzen 2).
But with all this evidence it was still fought that the surveillance method they used
involved no physical penetration into the telephone booth. The Fourth Amendment was
thought to limit only searches and seizures of tangible property.
The decision of the court was seven to one and Mr. Justice Marshall took no part
in the decision of the case. Mr. Justice Stewart concurred in his speech that,
…these considerations do not vanish when the search in question is
transferred from the setting of a home, an office, or a hotel room to that of
a telephone booth. Wherever a man may be, he is entitled to know that he
will remain free from unreasonable searches and seizures (Katzen 4).
Mr. Justice Stewarts feelings on the case were that the use of electronic surveillance
should be regulated. He thinks permission should be granted for the use of electronic
surveillance. Mr. Justice Douglas, with whom Mr. Justice Brennan joined, concurred that
The Fourth Amendment draws no lines between various substantive offenses. The arrests
in cases of hot pursuit and the arrests on visible or other evidence of probable cause cut
across the board and are not peculiar to any kind of crime (Galloway 216). Mr. Justice
Harlan concurred that like a home a telephone booth has its privacy. And the intrusion into
a place that is private is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Also, warrants are very
important in legal procedures of the court and must be followed through. Mr. Justice
I agree that the official surveillance of petitioners telephone conversations
in a public booth must be subjected to the test of reasonableness under the
Fourth Amendment…the particular surveillance undertaken was
unreasonable absent a warrant properly authorizing it (Hall 482).
Mr. Justice Fortas and Mr. Justice Douglas concurred together and said that the fourth
amendment should be revised for todays technology. Although the right of the fourth
amendment has come up allot like the Osborn V. United States case. Now it is time to
adjust and start by saying that the FBI violated the privacy upon which the petitioner
justifiably relied while using the telephone booth (Levy 1097). Mr. Justice Black
dissented, he could not concur because he could not make the amendment say what it
didnt know when it was written, I will not distort the words of the amendment in order
to keep the constitution up to date (Katzen 15). He believes that privacy is that only
explained in the fourth Amendment and no general right is granted,
by the amendment so as to give this court the unlimited power to hold
unconstitutional everything which affects privacy…the framers…did not
intend to grant this court such omnipotent lawmaking authority as that…for
these reasons I respectfully dissent(Katzen 15).
After this case the court made some requirements for electronic eavesdropping.
Most of them were put in the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act of 1968. There
are strict requirements for electronic surveillance. Warrants now have to be specified for
the use of electronic devices.
Galloway, John, (ed.) The Supreme Court and The Rights of The Accused.
New York: Facts on File, 1973.
Hall, Kermit. The Oxford Companion to The Supreme Court of The United
States. New York: Oxford, 1992.
Katzen, Sally. Katz V. United States. FedWorld/FLITE Supreme Court
Decisions Homepage. 24 Sep. 1997. Online.
Levy, Leonard, (ed.) Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. New York:
Maddex, James, Jr. Constitutional Law: Cases and Comments. St. Paul: West,