Katz v United States
#35, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)
Federal agents believed that Katz was using a payphone to organize and running his gambling ring that spread across state lines. Subsequently, the FBI used a wiretap on the payphone without obtaining a warrant. Katz was arrested based on the evidence found on the tapes obtained from this wiretap.
Katz was convicted in the US District Court for the “illegal transmission of wagering information from Los Angeles to Boston and Miami” (Oyez.org). Katz appealed to the US District Court of Appeals, claiming his Fourth Amendment right to search and seizure was violated when no warrant was obtained. The opinion of the lower court was affirmed, and Certiorari was granted.
Does a person’s 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizures extend to a public pay phone?
In a 7-1 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mr. Katz, stating that the warrantless wiretap of the pay phone did indeed violate his 4th Amendment rights. The majority opinion stated “the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places…”.
Though this decision ended up protecting civil liberties, I do not believe the decision was consistent. Earlier cases, specifically citing Brown v. Board of Education, and though another legal provision was inherently in question the decision can be applicable. The decision proved that the Federal government can indeed regulate public institutions by affirming the side of Brown–by this logic, as the payphone was public domain, the FBI should have been allowed to use the testimony.
KATZ v. UNITED STATES. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 26 April 2013. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1960-1969/1967/1967_35>.