United States v. White
401 U.S. 745, 91 S. Ct. 1122, 28 L. Ed.2d 453 (1971)

  • The police suspected White of being a drug dealer. Without a warrant or a court order, the police put a wire on an informant and recorded conversations between White and the informant.
    • They also hid a police officer in the informant’s house to listen to the conversations directly.
  • At trial, White made a motion to suppress on the grounds that the recordings constitute a violation of his 4th Amendment right to privacy.
    • White certainly believed that he was having a private conversation.
    • The informant did not testify at trial.
  • The Trial Judge denied the motion to suppress.
  • The Trial Court convicted White of drug possession. He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court reversed and granted the motion to suppress. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Appellate Court found that under the standard set by Katz v. United States (389 U.S. 347 (1967)) testimony about an electronically-recorded statement was prohibited.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed the Appellate Court and upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the 4th Amendment does not protect those who trust someone who turns out to be a police informant.
      • See Hoffa v. United States (385 U.S. 293 (1966)), which said that “no interest legitimately protected by the 4th Amendment is involved since the amendment affords no protection to a wrongdoer’s misplaced belief that a person to whom he voluntarily confides his wrongdoing will not reveal it.”
    • The Court noted that the fact the informant did not testify at trial could bring up issues of evidentiary procedure, but that’s not a 4th Amendment issue.
  • Basically, this case said that if you admit to people that you are committing crimes, you have no expectation of privacy and therefore it is your own fault if they squeal on you to the police.
    • Aka the third-party disclosure rule.
  • In a dissent it was argued that the widespread practice of third-party recording of conversations would have the effect of undermining the confidence and sense of security in dealing with one another that is characteristic of individual relationships between citizens in a free society and thus was damaging to the 1st Amendment right of free speech.
    • “Imposition of a warrant requirement is designed not to shield wrongdoers, but to secure a measure of privacy and a sense of personal security throughout our society.
  • Compare to Katz v. United States (389 U.S. 347), where a wiretap was held to be a 4th Amendment violation. This case says that had the police gotten the consent of the person Katz’s was talking to, it would have not been a violation.
    • When you talk to a friend, you assume the risk that the friend will go to the police, but you do not assume the risk that the police will listen in on the conversation without the knowledge of either party.