Katz v. United States
389 U.S. 347, 88 S. Ct. 507, 19 L. Ed.2d 576 (1967)

  • Katz was a gambler who used a public phone booth to place bets with his bookies. Turns out, the FBI had placed a wiretap on the phone and was recording his conversations. Katz was arrested and charged with illegal gambling.
    • The FBI did not have a warrant to tap the phone.
  • At trial, Katz argued that the recordings were inadmissible because they violated his 4th Amendment right against illegal search and seizure.
  • The prosecution argued that they weren’t specifically searching or seizing anything that belonged to Katz, therefore they didn’t need a warrant.
    • In fact, the tap was on the phone line miles away, the FBI never even touched the phone booth.
  • The Trial Court found Katz guilty of illegal gambling. Katz appealed.
  • The Appellate Court upheld the conviction. Katz appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that there was no physical intrusion into the phone booth, therefore there was no need for a warrant.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed.
    • The US Supreme Court found that if an individual can justifiably expect that his conversation would remain private, their conversation is protected from unreasonable search and seizure by the 4th Amendment.
      • The Court found that the 4th Amendment is designed to “protect people, not places.”
    • The Court found that the 4th Amendment can still be violated even if there is no physical intrusion of a ‘constitutionally protected area’.
      • Therefore a warrant is required before the government can execute a wiretap, and the warrant must be sufficiently limited in scope and duration.
  • Basically, this case said that the 4th Amendment is a general right to privacy, not a right to have a specific item or location protected. It doesn’t matter where you are, if you feel that you are in private, then you are protected.
    • Whatever a citizen “seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.”
      • Aka a reasonable expectation of privacy.
      • That’s a subjective standard. But is the subjective standard that the suspect assumes reasonably objective?
        • Reasonable expectations could be defined by what the courts say and the police do. If the police regularly tap phones, do you still have a reasonable expectation that your phone calls are not being recorded?
          • That’s circular reasoning.
        • Alternately, the standard shouldn’t be what the courts and police do, but what the general public does.
        • Alternately, the standard should be what does the public want the standard to be?
  • In a dissent, it was argued that argued that the 4th Amendment, was only meant to protect “things” from physical search and seizure; it was not meant to protect personal privacy.
    • It was argued that wiretapping is similar to eavesdropping, which was around when the Bill of Rights was drafted. If the drafters of the 4th Amendment had meant for it to protect against eavesdropping they would have included the proper language.
  • This case overturned Olmstead v. United States (277 U.S. 438 (1928)), which said that wiretapping was legal because the wires that had been tapped were not the personal property of the defendant.
  • In the past, property was a good proxy for privacy because you had to get close enough to overhear. But with technology that’s no longer true. You no longer need to trespass on property to intrude on privacy, so the law needed to change to catch up.