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Wilson v. Schnettler

March 21, 1960


Author: Grubb

Before SCHNACKENBERG and KNOCH, Circuit Judges, and GRUBB, District Judge.

GRUBB, District Judge.

Petitioner, Bernard Wilson, appeals in forma pauperis from an order of the district court dismissing his amended petition for declaratory judgment wherein he prayed for a determination of the legality of his arrest and search without a warrant by the respondent federal narcotics agents. In the event the court found the search and seizure in violation of the requirements of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, 18 U.S.C.A., petitioner requested it to impound the seized narcotics and to perpetually enjoin respondents from testifying in respect thereto in a pending criminal proceeding in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois.

The allegedly illegal arrest and search wherein respondents obtained narcotic drugs from the person of petitioner occurred on April 14, 1959, at 7:30 a. m. Wilson was thereafter indicted and charged by the Grand Jury of Cook County, Illinois, with the crime of Unlawful Possession of Narcotic Drugs. After his arraignment and plea of not guilty in the Criminal Court of Cook County, Illinois, that court denied petitioner's motion for suppression of the evidence obtained in the search and seizure.

Petitioner alleges that the following facts were developed at the hearing of the motion to suppress in the State court: The federal narcotics agents saw Wilson enter a certain building under surveillance where they had information that narcotic drugs were being sold. A short time later the agents observed him leaving the building. They then arrested and searched him without a warrant. The agents could not state under oath whether or not Wilson had narcotic drugs in his possession before he entered the building under surveillance.

Thereafter, petitioner, who is presently incarcerated in Cook County jail awaiting trial on the State charge, commenced the proceeding in the district court in question here.

Petitioner contends that the district court has jurisdiction of the subject matter of this proceeding under the court's "supervisory powers over federal law enforcement agencies." He relies on Rea v. United States, 1956, 350 U.S. 214, 76 S. Ct. 292, 294, 100 L. Ed. 233.

Decisive factual differences distinguish the Rea case from the instant proceeding. In Rea the tainted evidence was seized under invalid process of a federal court. There a United States commissioner issued the invalid warrant. The federal officials acted under color of the defective process. They disobeyed the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, promulgated by the Supreme Court and enacted as law by Congress.*fn1 A federal district court had previously ordered the suppression of the illegally obtained evidence in a then pending criminal action.

In the instant proceeding the arrest and search were without warrant. A State court has denied a motion to suppress the seized narcotics as evidence in a criminal action pending before it. There was no exertion of authority, lawful or otherwise, by a United States commissioner or by any official acting under color of federal judicial authority. No federal court has been asked to admit in evidence the narcotic drugs obtained by seizure. The contraband drugs are not in the possession or custody of an officer of a federal court.

This case squarely raises the question asked by the dissenting minority in Rea: "Would the Court's decision have been different had there been no search warrant at all?" 350 U.S. 214, at page 219, 76 S. Ct. 292, at page 295.

The foundation of the Rea decision lies in the power of the federal judiciary to supervise federal law enforcement agencies acting pursuant to federal process or orders of federal courts. Principles governing the scope and applicability of the exercise of federal judicial supervision over all federal judicial supervision over all federal judicial proceedings to the end of a fair and orderly administration of criminal justice have been developed and established by a line of leading decisions.*fn2

The supervisory power, implemented by federal rules governing procedure and evidence, commands the exclusion as evidence of the fruits of invasions of federal constitutional immunities against unlawful detention and unreasonable searches and seizures.The sanctions of exclusion do not have constitutional stature; they are not a command of the Fourth or Fifth Amendment. The reach of federal judicial sanctions is limited by the boundaries of the federal judicial supervisory power. The sanction may, therefore, be wielded against all federal law enforcement agencies as, for example, the federal courts and their officers, United States Commissioners, or other federal officials, whenever these agencies or officers are acting pursuant to federal judicial authority.

Congress and the federal judiciary generally have refrained from interfering with the internal affairs of the States in the administration of justice, subject to review by federal courts of any federal questions involved. Douglas v. City of Jeannette, 1943, 319 U.S. 157, 63 S. Ct. 877, 87 L. Ed. 1324. The admissibility of evidence is a matter to be decided by the trial court where it is sought to be introduced in the light of constitutional principles and rules of evidence of the forum. The State court still has a right to protect all constitutional rights of the petitioner in ruling on the admissibility of evidence and in other ways upon the disposition of the case in that court. While searches and seizures or detentions, if unreasonable, may be in violation of the Constitution of the United States, the admission of unlawfully obtained evidence is not a denial of due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, 1949, 338 U.S. 25, 69 S. Ct. 1359, 93 L. Ed. 1782.

Principles of noninterference in State criminal affairs have been predicated on constitutional grounds and considerations of policy in balancing federal and State interests. The distinction that the illegal evidence was obtained by the activities of State and not federal officials is not material. The misconduct of federal officers may subject them to criminal penalties.*fn3 Unless these officers act under color of judicial authority or order of the federal courts, they are not subject to the federal ...

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