OLMSTEAD v. UNITED STATES

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
493
Petitioner 
Olmstead
Respondent 
United States
Decided By 
Term:
Facts of the Case 

Roy Olmstead was a suspected bootlegger. Without judicial approval, federal agents installed wiretaps in the basement of Olmstead's building (where he maintained an office) and in the streets near his home. Olmstead was convicted with evidence obtained from the wiretaps. This case was decided along with Green v. United States, in which Green and several other defendants were similarly convicted, based on illegally obtained wire-tapped conversations, for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act by importing, possessing, and selling illegal liquors. This case was also decided with McInnis v. United States.

Question 

Did the use of evidence disclosed in wiretapped private telephone conversations, violate the recorded party's Fourth and Fifth Amendments?

Conclusion 

No. The Court held that neither the Fourth nor Fifth Amendment rights of the recorded parties were violated. The use of wiretapped conversations as incriminating evidence did not violate their Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination because they were not forcibly or illegally made to conduct those conversations. Instead, the conversations were voluntarily made between the parties and their associates. Moreover, the parties' Fourth Amendment rights were not infringed because mere wiretapping does not constitute a search and seizure under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. These terms refer to an actual physical examination of one's person, papers, tangible material effects, or home - not their conversations. Finally, the Court added that while wiretapping may be unethical no court may exclude evidence solely for moral reasons. When criticized for his opinion, Justice Taft mocked his foes as he wrote to a friend: "If they think we are going to be frightened in our effort to stand by the law and give the public a chance to punish criminals, they are mistaken, even though we are condemned for lack of high ideals." This case was reversed by Katz v. U.S. (1967).

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OLMSTEAD v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 August 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1901-1939/1927/1927_493>.
OLMSTEAD v. UNITED STATES, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1901-1939/1927/1927_493 (last visited August 26, 2014).
"OLMSTEAD v. UNITED STATES," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed August 26, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1901-1939/1927/1927_493.