Zap v. United States/Dissent Frankfurter

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion

United States Supreme Court

328 U.S. 624


 Argued: Feb. 5, 6, 1946. --- Decided: June 10, 1946

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER, with whom Mr. Justice MURPHY and Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE concur, dissenting.

The views expressed in my dissenting opinion in Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 66 S.Ct. 1256, likewise compel me to dissent in this case.

The petitioner is an aeronautical engineer. He made a contract with the Navy Department to perform experimental work. In June 1942, the Navy agreed that Zap should carry out test flights to determine the value of his experimental work. The tests were to be paid for by the Navy on a cost-plus-a-fixed-fee basis. Zap estimated that the cost of these flights would be $4,000, but he made arrangements for the tests at a fee of $2,500. Prior to the flights, the test pilot indorsed a blank check which he returned to the petitioner. The petitioner's auditor instructed the bookkeeper to make the check for $4,000 and deposit it in the petitioner's account. The check was posted on the petitioner's books for payment to the pilot, though in fact the pilot received only $2,500.

In October, 1942, petitioner presented a voucher to the Navy for reimbursement for the money laid out in making the tests. The voucher was supported by a reference to the check for $4,000. From October 20, to December 1, 1942, two F.B.I. agents conducted an audit of the petitioner's books and papers, under the auspices of an accountant and inspector of the Navy. During this investigation one of the F.B.I. agents demanded and received the cancelled check for $4,000 made out to the pilot and endorsed by him. The agent retained the check. On December 1, 1942, one of the agents swore out an affidavit on the basis of which a search warrant was issued for the books and papers of the petitioner, and these books and papers were taken under the warrant. The warrant, it is conceded, was defective, inasmuch as the affidavit failed to show the necessary probable cause for the belief that the petitioner had committed an offense to warrant the seizure.

The petitioner was convicted of defrauding the government. Criminal Code, § 35(A), 35 Stat. 1088, 1095, 40 Stat. 1015, 48 Stat. 996, 52 Stat. 197, 18 U.S.C. § 80, 18 U.S.C.A. § 80. He made a timely motion to suppress the cancelled check and other records. The moto n was denied, the documents were admitted in evidence, conviction and its affirmance followed. 9 Cir., 151 F.2d 100. The sole question before us is the validity of the seizure.

I agree that the government had authority, as a result of its contract with the petitioner and the relevant statutes, to inspect the petitioner's books and records, 44 Stat. 780, 787, 10 U.S.C. § 310(l), 10 U.S.C.A. § 310(l), 56 Stat. 176, 185, 50 U.S.C.App. § 643, 50 U.S.C.A.Appendix, § 643, and that the Navy Department could utilize members of the F.B.I. for this purpose. Accordingly, the search was legal and the inspectors could testify to what they had gleaned from the inspection. But, as is pointed out in my dissent in Davis v. United States, 328 U.S. 582, 66 S.Ct. 1256, the Constitutional prohibition is directed not only at illegal searches. It likewise condemns invalid seizures. And that is the issue here. The legality of a search does not automatically legalize every accompanying seizure.

The Government argues very simply that the seizure was authorized since the seized items were uncovered in a lawful search. But this is to overlook what we ruled in Marron v. United States, 275 U.S. 192, 196, 48 S.Ct. 74, 76, 72 L.Ed. 231: 'The requirement that warrants shall particularly describe the things to be seized makes general searches under them impossible and prevents the seizure of one thing under a warrant describing another. As to what is to be taken, nothing is left to the discretion of the officers executing the warrant.' If where a search instituted under the legal process of a warrant, which also authorizes seizure, does not permit seizure of articles other than those specified, statutory and contractual authority merely to search cannot be considered sufficient to grant that power. The Government relies on a doctrine quite inapposite here. If, in the course of a valid search, materials are uncovered, the very possession or concealment of which is a crime, they may be seized. But to seize for evidentiary use papers the possession of which involves no infringement of law, is a horse of a different color.

Petitioner's right to possession was clearly recognized by the agents when they sought a warrant for the purpose of securing the evidence. That warrant was defective, however, and could not authorize the seizure. The Government deems this a 'technical error.' It is a 'technicality' of such substance that this Court has frequently announced the duty to suppress evidence obtained by such defective warrants. Cf. United States v. Berkeness, 275 U.S. 149, 48 S.Ct. 46, 72 L.Ed. 211; Grau v. United States, 287 U.S. 124, 53 S.Ct. 38, 77 L.Ed. 212; Sgro v. United States, 287 U.S. 206, 53 S.Ct. 138, 77 L.Ed. 260, 85 A.L.R. 108; Nathanson v. United States, 290 U.S. 41, 54 S.Ct. 11, 78 L.Ed. 159. The fact that this evidence might have been secured by a lawful warrant seems a strange basis for approving seizure without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment stands in the way.

I would reverse the judgment.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).