J.C. McDowell, hereinafter called the petitioner, filed a petition in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania asking for an order for the return to him of certain books, papers, memoranda, correspondence and other data in the possession of Joseph A. Burdeau, appellant herein, Special Assistant to the Attorney General of the United States.
In the petition it is stated that Burdeau and his associates intended to present to the grand jury in and for the Western District of Pennsylvania a charge against petitioner of an alleged violation of § 215 of the Criminal Code of the United States in the fraudulent use of the mails; that it was the intention of Burdeau and his associates, including certain post-office inspectors cooperating with him, to present to the grand jury certain private books, papers, memoranda, etc., which were the private property of the petitioner; that the papers had been in the possession and exclusive control of the petitioner in the Farmers Bank Building in Pittsburgh. It is alleged that during the spring and summer of 1920 these papers were unlawfully seized and stolen from petitioner by certain persons participating in and furthering the proposed investigation so to be made by the grand jury, under the direction and control of Burdeau as special assistant to the Attorney General, and that such books, papers, memoranda, etc., were being held in the possession and control of Burdeau and his assistants; that in the taking of the personal private books and papers the person who purloined and stole the same drilled the petitioner's private safes, broke the locks upon his private
An answer was filed claiming the right to hold and use the papers. A hearing was had before the District Judge, who made an order requiring the delivery of the papers to the clerk of the court, together with all copies memoranda and data taken therefrom, which the court found had been stolen from the offices of the petitioner at rooms numbered 1320 and 1321 in the Farmers Bank Building in the City of Pittsburgh. The order further provided that upon delivery of the books, papers, etc., to the clerk of the court the same should be sealed and impounded for the period of ten days, at the end of which period they should be delivered to the petitioner or his attorney unless an appeal were taken from the order of the court, in which event, the books, papers, etc., should be impounded until the determination of the appeal. An order was made restraining Burdeau, Special Assistant Attorney General, the Department of Justice, its officers and agents, and the United States Attorney from presenting to the United States Commissioner, the grand jury or any judicial tribunal, any of the books, papers, memoranda, letters, copies of letters, correspondence, etc., or any evidence of any nature whatsoever secured by or coming into their possession as a result of the knowledge obtained from the inspection of such books, papers, memoranda, etc.
In his opinion the District Judge stated that it was the
So far as is necessary for our consideration certain facts from the record may be stated. Henry L. Doherty & Company of New York were operating managers of the Cities Service Company, which company is a holding company, having control of various oil and gas companies. Petitioner was a director in the Cities Service Company
In June, 1920, following, Doherty & Company, after communication with the Department of Justice, turned over a letter, found in McDowell's desk, to the Department's representative. Burdeau admitted at the hearing that as the representative of the United States in the Department of Justice he had papers which he assumed were taken from the office of McDowell. The communication to the Attorney General stated that McDowell had violated the laws of the United States in the use of the mail in the transmission of various letters to parties who owned the properties which were sold by or offered to the Cities Service Company; that some of such letters, or copies of them taken from McDowell's file, were in the possession of the Cities Service Company, that the Company also had in its possession portions of a diary of McDowell in which he had jotted down the commissions which he had received from a number of the transactions, and other data which, it is stated, would be useful in the investigation of the matter before the grand jury and subsequent prosecution should an indictment be returned.
We do not question the authority of the court to control the disposition of the papers, and come directly to the contention that the constitutional rights of the petitioner were violated by their seizure, and that having subsequently come into the possession of the prosecuting officers of the Government, he was entitled to their return. The Amendments involved are the Fourth and Fifth, protecting a citizen against unreasonable searches and seizures, and compulsory testimony against himself. An extended consideration of the origin and purposes of these Amendments would be superfluous in view of the fact that this court has had occasion to deal with those subjects in a series of cases. Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616; Adams v. New York, 192 U.S. 585; Weeks v.
The Fourth Amendment gives protection against unlawful searches and seizures, and as shown in the previous cases, its protection applies to governmental action. Its origin and history clearly show that it was intended as a restraint upon the activities of sovereign authority, and was not intended to be a limitation upon other than governmental agencies; as against such authority it was the purpose of the Fourth Amendment to secure the citizen in the right of unmolested occupation of his dwelling and the possession of his property, subject to the right of seizure by process duly issued.
In the present case the record clearly shows that no official of the Federal Government had anything to do with the wrongful seizure of the petitioner's property, or any knowledge thereof until several months after the property had been taken from him and was in the possession of the Cities Service Company. It is manifest that there was no invasion of the security afforded by the Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure, as whatever wrong was done was the act of individuals in taking the property of another. A portion of the property so taken and held was turned over to the prosecuting officers of the Federal Government. We assume that petitioner has an unquestionable right of redress against those who illegally and wrongfully took his private property under the circumstances herein disclosed, but with such remedies we are not now concerned.
The Fifth Amendment, as its terms import is intended to secure the citizen from compulsory testimony against himself. It protects from extorted confessions, or examinations in court proceedings by compulsory methods.
The exact question to be decided here is: May the
We know of no constitutional principle which requires the Government to surrender the papers under such circumstances. Had it learned that such incriminatory papers, tending to show a violation of federal law, were in the hands of a person other than the accused, it having had no part in wrongfully obtaining them, we know of no reason why a subpoena might not issue for the production of the papers as evidence. Such production would require no unreasonable search or seizure, nor would it amount to compelling the accused to testify against himself.
The papers having come into the possession of the Government without a violation of petitioner's rights by governmental authority, we see no reason why the fact that individuals, unconnected with the Government, may have wrongfully taken them, should prevent them from being held for use in prosecuting an offense where the documents are of an incriminatory character.
It follows that the District Court erred in making the order appealed from, and the same is
MR. JUSTICE BRANDEIS dissenting, with whom MR. JUSTICE HOLMES concurs.
Plaintiff's private papers were stolen. The thief, to further his own ends, delivered them to the law officer of the United States. He, knowing them to have been stolen, retains them for use against the plaintiff. Should the court permit him to do so?