United States v. Karo
After a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent learned that respondents Karo, Horton, and Harley had ordered 50 gallons of ether from a Government informant, who had told the agent that the ether was to be used to extract cocaine from clothing that had been imported into the United States, the Government obtained a court order authorizing the installation and monitoring of a beeper in one of the cans of ether. With the informant's consent, DEA agents substituted their own can containing a beeper for one of the cans in the shipment. Thereafter, agents saw Karo pick up the ether from the informant, followed Karo to his house, and determined by using the beeper that the ether was inside the house where it was then monitored. The ether then moved in succession to two other houses, including Horton's, before it was moved first to a locker in one commercial storage facility and then to a locker in another such facility. Both lockers were rented jointly by Horton and Harley. Finally, the ether was removed from the second storage facility by respondent Rhodes and an unidentified woman and transported in Horton's truck, first to Rhodes' house and then to a house rented by Horton, Harley, and respondent Steele. Using the beeper monitor, agents determined that the beeper can was inside the house, and obtained a warrant to search the house based in part on information derived through use of the beeper. The warrant was executed and Horton, Harley, Steele, and respondent Roth were arrested, and cocaine was seized. Respondents were indicted for various offenses relating to the cocaine. The District Court granted respondent's pretrial motion to suppress the seized evidence on the grounds that the initial warrant to install the beeper was invalid and that the seizure was the tainted fruit of an unauthorized installation and monitoring of the beeper. The Government appealed but did not challenge the invalidation of the initial warrant. The Court of Appeals affirmed, except with respect to Rhodes, holding that a warrant was required to install the beeper in the can of ether and to monitor it in private dwellings and storage lockers, that the warrant for the search of the house rented by Horton, Harley, and Steele, and the resulting seizure were tainted by the Government's prior illegal conduct, and that therefore the evidence was properly suppressed as to Horton, Harley, Steele, Roth, and Karo.
1. No Fourth Amendment interest of Karo or of any other respondent was infringed by the installation of the beeper. The informant's consent was sufficient to validate the installation. And the transfer of the beeper-laden can to Karo was neither a search nor a seizure, since it conveyed no information that Karo wished to keep private and did not interfere with anyone's possessory interest in a meaningful way. Pp. 711-713.
2. The monitoring of a beeper in a private residence, a location not opened to visual surveillance, violates the Fourth Amendment rights of those who have a justifiable interest in the privacy of the residence. Here, if a DEA agent had entered the house in question without a warrant to verify that the ether was in the house, he would have engaged in an unreasonable search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The result is the same where, without a warrant, the Government surreptitiously uses a beeper to obtain information that it could not have obtained from outside the curtilage of the house. There is no reason in this case to deviate from the general rule that a search of a house should be conducted pursuant to a warrant. Pp. 713-718.
3. The evidence seized in the house in question, however, should not have been suppressed with respect to any of the respondents. The information that the ether was in the house, verified by use of the beeper without a warrant, would be inadmissible against those respondents with privacy interests in the house and would invalidate the search warrant, if critical to establishing probable cause. But because locating, without prior monitoring, the ether in the second storage facility was not an illegal search (use of the beeper not identifying the specific locker in which the ether was located and the locker being identified only by the smell of ether emanating therefrom) and because the ether was seen being loaded into Horton's truck, which then traveled the highways, it is evident that there was no violation of the Fourth Amendment as to anyone with or without standing to complain about monitoring the beeper while it was located in the truck. United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276. Under the circumstances, the warrant affidavit, after striking the facts about monitoring the beeper while it was in the searched house, contained sufficient untainted information to furnish probable cause for issuance of the search warrant. Pp. 719-721.
710 F.2d 1433, reversed.
White, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Burger, C. J., and Blackmun and Powell, JJ., joined, in Parts I, II, and IV of which Rehnquist and O'Connor, JJ., joined, and in Part III of which Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, JJ., joined. O'Connor, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Rehnquist, J., joined, post, p. 721. Stevens, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which Brennan and Marshall, JJ., joined, post, p. 728.
Deputy Solicitor General Frey argued the cause for the United States. With him on the briefs were Solicitor General Lee, Assistant Attorney General Trott, Elliott Schulder, and Vincent L. Gambale.
Charles Louis Roberts argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief for respondents Harley et al. were Joseph (Sib) Abraham, Jr., and Michael Vigil. Reber Boult, Nancy Hollander, and James Beam filed a brief for respondents Karo et al. Roger Bargas, by appointment of the Court, 465 U.S. 1064, filed a brief for respondent Rhodes.[*]
^ . Gerald H. Goldstein filed a brief for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers as amicus curiae urging affirmance.