United States v. Watson 423 U.S. 411, 96 S. Ct. 820, 46 L. Ed.2d 598 (1976)
An informant named Khoury told
the postal inspector that Watson had given him stolen credit cards and
would give him more.
The informant's information
was probably enough to get an arrest warrant, but the postal inspector chose not to bother.
Instead, the postal inspector
had Khoury set up a meeting with Watson. At the meeting, Khoury gave a
signal that Watson had the cards on him. The postal inspectors swooped in
and arrested Watson.
Watson did not have any
stolen credit cards on him.
Watson consented to a search
of his car. They found stolen credit cards in his car. He was charged
with possession of stolen goods.
The Trial Court convicted
Watson. He appealed.
Watson argued that the
arrest was unconstitutional because the postal inspector did not have a
warrant to arrest him. If they hadn't arrested him he wouldn't have
consented to the search of his car, so all the evidence should be thrown
Watson argued that the
postal inspectors could have gotten an arrest warrant, but failed to do so.
18 U.S.C. §3061 (which authorized postal inspectors) gives
them the ability to arrest someone without an arrest warrant, as long as
they have probable cause.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The prosecutor appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
the Appellate Court and upheld the conviction.
The US Supreme Court found
there was nothing in prior case law to suggest that the 4th
Amendment requires a warrant to make
an arrest for a felony.
Watson unsuccessfully argued
that under the ancient common law, the police were only allowed to arrest
someone if they had an arrest warrant, or if the person committed a crime
in the presence of the police officer, or if there was reasonable grounds
to believe that the person had committed a felony.
The Court noted that within
48 hours of an arrest, the police have to present the prisoner to a judge
for an arraignment to show that there was probable cause to make the arrest, at the time the arrest was
made. That functions like a retroactive arrest warrant and helps to
deter the police from arresting people wily-nily.
See Gerstein v. Pugh (420 U.S. 103 (1975))
In a concurrence, it was
argued that since the informer gave a signal, the postal inspector had
probable cause to make the arrest, and therefore the arrest was legal
because it fit into a recognized exception to the warrant requirement.
There was no reason to toss out the entire concept that the 4th
Amendment requires a warrant to
Basically, the police need a
warrant to arrest someone because an arrest is a lot like a search and
seizure, it is just that the person is being seized, not their stuff.
Since the police generally need a warrant under the 4th
Amendment to search and seize
someone's stuff, shouldn't the police also need a warrant to search and
seize a person?