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
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 Amendmentright
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
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
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
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
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.