U.s. Supreme Court Decisions: 1974-1975

Publication year1975
CitationVol. 4 No. 9 Pg. 1675
4 Colo.Law. 1675
Colorado Lawyer

1975, September, Pg. 1675. U.S. Supreme Court Decisions: 1974-1975


Vol. 4, No. 9, Pg. 1675

U.S. Supreme Court Decisions: 1974-1975

by Justice William H. Erickson


A. Investigative Phase

1. Search and Seizure

a. Mexican Border Automobile Search

United States v. Peltier, ___ U.S. ___, 95 S.Ct. ___, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (1975): The Court held that their decision in Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266 (1973), which held that a warrantless automobile search conducted near the Mexican border by officers who acted without probable cause violated the Fourth Amendment, was not entitled to retroactive application.

The search conducted in this case was prior to June 21, 1973, the date of the Almeida-Sanchez decision. Although concededly unconstitutional under the principles of Almeida-Sanchez, this search was conducted by agents acting in reliance upon a federal statute with long-standing judicial support. See Linkletter v. Walker, 381 U.S. 618 (1965).

Retroactive application is often applied to rulings in criminal cases that so alter an aspect of the trial as to substantially impair its truth-finding function and raise serious questions about the accuracy of guilty verdicts in past trials. Prospective application is normally applied when a new ruling excludes relevant evidence in order to enforce a constitutional guarantee that does not relate to the integrity of the factfinding process. The Court found the Almeida-Sanchez decision to fall in the latter category.

The policies underlying the exclusionary rule---judicial integrity and deterrence of unlawful police activity---do not justify retroactive application to pre-Almeida-Sanchez searches. Introduction of evidence seized in good faith compliance with prevailing constitutional norms does not impose upon judicial integrity. The deterrent purpose would not be served unless the officers here had knowledge or could properly be charged with knowledge that the search they conducted was unconstitutional.

Justices Stewart, Douglas, Brennan and Marshall strongly dissented, stating that since Almeida-Sanchez applied long familiar principles of constitutional law, there was no question of prospectivity presented. They said the decision did not "constitute a sharp break in the line of earlier authority or an avulsive change which caused the current of the law thereafter to flow between new banks," and that the majority erred in failing to apply that test. Hanover Shoe, Inc. v. United Shoe Machinery Corporation, 392 U.S. 481 (1968).

b. Immigration Searches at Traffic Checkpoints Removed from the Mexican Border


United States v. Ortiz, ___ U.S. ___, 95 S.Ct. ___, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (1975): Respondent's car was stopped for a routine immigration search in San Clemente, California. He was later convicted of illegal transportation of unlawful immigrants.

Applying the standards of Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266 (1973), the Court held that vehicle searches at traffic checkpoints which are removed from the border and its functional equivalents must be based on probable cause or consent in order to be constitutional.

The central concern of the Fourth Amendment "is to protect liberty and privacy from arbitrary and oppressive interference by government officials." The requirement of reasonableness may limit police use of unnecessarily frightening or offensive methods of surveillance and investigation. The searches at traffic checkpoints may be as equally as offensive as the searches by roving border patrols in Almeida-Sanchez. "The greater regularity attending the stop does not mitigate the invasion of privacy that a search entails."

The degree of discretion allowed officers to make inspections at the checkpoints, although exercised with restraint, is not consistent with Fourth Amendment principles aimed against substantial invasions of privacy and which require probable cause as the minimum requirement for a search. The search here is invalid, the absence of probable cause resting on the officers' failure to provide any particular reasons for believing that respondent's vehicle contained aliens.

c. Searches at Traffic Checkpoints Removed from the Mexican Border

Bowen v. United States, ___ U.S. ___, 95 S.Ct. ___, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (1975): Petitioner was convicted of a federal drug offense based on evidence seized in January, 1971, by border patrol officers at a traffic checkpoint about 36 air miles from the Mexican border.

The Court held that although United States v. Ortiz, ___ U.S. ___ (1975), forbids searching vehicles at traffic checkpoints in the absence of consent or probable cause, Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266 (1973), is not retroactive and would not invalidate searches before the date of that decision. For reasons given in United States v. Peltier, ___ U.S. ___ (1975), the search here was not invalidated retroactively and the conviction was allowed to stand.

The officers reasonably relied on former judicial decisions in performing this search and others like it, and in these circumstances the purposes of the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule would not be served by applying the principles of Almeida-Sanchez retroactively.

Justices Douglas, Brennan, Marshall, and Stewart dissented for the reasons stated in the dissent in United States v. Peltier, ___ U.S. ___ (1975).

d. Reasonableness in Traffic Checkpoint Vehicle Stops

United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, ___ U.S. ___, 95 S.Ct. ___, ___ L.Ed.2d ___ (1975): Respondent's car was stopped for questioning near the traffic checkpoint in San Clemente, California, solely because its three occupants appeared to be of Mexican descent. He was thereafter convicted of illegal transportation of unlawful immigrants.

The Court held that a roving patrol stop of a vehicle in an area near the border cannot be based solely on suspicion created by the occupants' appearance of Mexican ancestry.

The Fourth Amendment's requirement of reasonableness applies to brief seizures of the person. The reasonableness depends on a balance between the public interest and the individual's right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers. Although the public interest here in


controlling illegal entry by aliens is convincing, and the interference with individual liberty by stopping and questioning automobile occupants is modest, the stop was nevertheless made without reasonable suspicion as it was based solely on appearance of Mexican descent.

A reasonable suspicion requirement for discretionary stops allows adequate protection of individuals from indiscriminate official interference. This does not prevent the minimal intrusion of a brief investigative stop when the officer's observations lead him reasonably to suspect that a particular vehicle may contain aliens.

In addition, the congressional authority to admit aliens on condition that they submit to reasonable questioning does not diminish the Fourth Amendment rights of citizens who may be mistaken for aliens. This holding means only that officers on roving patrol stops must be aware of specific articulable facts, together with rational inferences from those facts, that reasonably warrant suspicion that vehicles contain aliens who may be illegally in the United States. The fact of Mexican ancestry alone, although relevant, is not in and of itself sufficient to supply a reasonable suspicion.

2. Federal and Congressional Investigations

a. FBI Investigations

Socialist Workers Party v. Attorney General, 419 U.S. 1314, 95 S.Ct. 425, 42 L.Ed.2d 627 (1974): A federal district court granted a preliminary injunction against the Director of the FBI and others, barring government agents and informants from attending or otherwise monitoring the national convention of the Young Socialist Alliance. The Second Circuit vacated the order, except to bar the FBI from transmitting names of persons attending the convention to the Civil Service Commission. Applicants filed an application with Mr. Justice Marshall, as Circuit Justice, to stay the order of the court of appeals.

Justice Marshall held that the extraordinary relief of a stay was not warranted. He concluded that the proposed government activity at the convention simply entailed the use of informants who would attend the meetings just as any other member of the public might do, and said, "The nature of the proposed monitoring is limited, the conduct is entirely legal, and if relief were granted, the potential injury to the FBI's continuing investigative efforts would be apparent." Any "chilling effect" on applicants' First


Amendment rights is not sufficient to outweigh prejudice to the government that compromising its informants would entail.

b. IRS Issuance of "John Doe" Summons

United States v. Bisceglia, 420 U.S. 141, 95 S.Ct. 915, 43 L.Ed.2d 88 (1975): The Court held that the Internal Revenue Service has authority under Sections 7601 and 7602 of the Internal Revenue Code to issue a "John Doe" summons to a bank or other depository to discover the identity of a person who has had bank transactions suggesting the possibility of liability for unpaid taxes.

Section 7601 gives the IRS a broad mandate to investigate "all persons who may be liable" for taxes, and Section 7602 allows examination of any book, papers, etc. which may be relevant. The language of the statutes is inconsistent with an interpretation that would limit the issuance of summonses to investigations which have already focused upon a particular return, named person, or tax liability. A restrictive reading would also obliterate the legitimate interest of the IRS in large or unusual financial transactions. See California Bankers Ass'n v. Schultz, 416 U.S. 21 (1974).

Since the purpose of the statutes is...

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