Olmstead v. United States (1928)
Opinion delivered by Chief Justice Taft
Case reached Supreme Court by writ of certiorari.
The evidence in the records discloses a conspiracy of amazing magnitude
to import, possess, and sell liquor unlawfully. Involved were not less than
fifty employees, two sea-going vessels for transportation of the goods to
British Columbia, a ranch beyond the city limits of Seattle with a large
underground cache to store the liquor, and many other caches around the area of
Seattle, a maintained city office with executives, secretaries, salesmen,
deliverymen, dispatchers, bookkeepers, collectors, scouts, and an attorney.
Olmstead was the leading conspirator and manager of the business. His invested
capital brought him 50 percent of the total income of the company (said to be
over 2 million/year), and the other 50 percent went to 11 other investors.
In the main office building there were three different telephones with
separate lines for each. Telephone communication was made throughout the city,
the homes of the investors, customers, Vancouver, to and from the office
building and ranch. Times were fixed for the delivery of the "stuff" to places
along the Puget Sound and from there was transported to the various caches.
The information leading to the arrests was made primarily by four
Federal prohibition officers. The officers placed small wires along the main
lines outside the homes of the four main conspirators and that of the office.
No intrusion was made into private property. Olmstead was found to have made
dealings with members of the Seattle police to secure the release of any of the
conspiring parties that might get arrested.
Petitioners were convicted in the District Court of the Western District
of Washington for conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act. The
conviction was upheld upon appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The
case was granted writ of certiorari to the US Supreme Court.
Whether the use as evidence of private telephone conversations between
the defendants and others, intercepted by means of wiretapping, amounted to a
violation of the fourth and fifth amendments.
The Court held that the use of wiretaps to obtain evidence is not a
violation of the Fourth Amendment...