Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383; 34 S. Ct. 341 (1914)

Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383; 34 S. Ct. 341 (1914)

Facts—Weeks was indicted in a federal court in Missouri for nine counts including use of the mail for transporting illegal lottery tickets. After a police officer arrested Weeks at work, a U.S. marshal and police officers twice entered Weeks’s house without a search warrant and removed certain possessions and papers, which Weeks asked to be returned. The lower court ordered the return of the items not needed for trial, but allowed the prosecutor to use the incriminating papers. Weeks filed another petition before his trial, but it was denied and he was convicted. Weeks subsequently appealed his conviction on the basis that evidence had been improperly gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Question—Can evidence gathered illegally without the use of a warrant be used in a criminal federal trial?


ReasonsJ. Day (8–0). Citing Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616 (1886), Day observed that the Fourth Amendment was intended to embody the idea “that a man’s house was his castle and not to be invaded by any general authority to search and seize his goods and papers.” This idea had deep roots in English law. This does not preclude the government from searching the person of an accused who is legally arrested but does preclude the use by the United States of incriminating materials gathered by a marshal without a search warrant describing with particularity the goods to be so seized: “If letters and private documents can thus be seized and held and used in evidence against a citizen accused of an offense, the protection of the Fourth Amendment declaring his right to be secure against such searches and seizures is of no value, and, so far as those thus placed are concerned, might as well be stricken from the Constitution.” Day distinguished this decision from prior cases in which materials had been gathered in the execution of a legal search warrant or other processes. The use of papers seized from Weeks resulted in prejudicial error, and the Court consequently reversed Weeks’s conviction.

Note—This case was the first to apply the so-called exclusionary rule to the national government. Although the Court ruled in Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25 (1949), that the Fourteenth Amendment applied the Fourth Amendment to the states, it did not apply this same rule to state law enforcement authorities until Mapp v. Ohio (1961).

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