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United States v. Teller

June 25, 1968


Schnackenberg, Fairchild and Cummings, Circuit Judges.

Author: Schnackenberg


Leah Joyce Teller, defendant, has appealed from a judgment of the district court, sitting without a jury, convicting her on the first count of an indictment charging that she did on July 23, 1966, purchase, sell, dispense and distribute 4.200 grams of heroin, in violation of Title 26, United States Code, ยง 4704(a).*fn1

A motion was made by defendant to suppress evidence and to return property on the ground that the search and seizure were unreasonable, not authorized by a warrant or search warrant, and that the property was not subject to search and seizure, all in violation of the fourth amendment to the federal constitution. The property was described as a purse and alleged narcotics. An answer to the motion was filed alleging the existence on July 23, 1966 of a search warrant for the premises at 9736 South Longwood Drive, Chicago, Illinois, and an arrest warrant for the person of Sheldon R. Teller, husband of defendant, and that the purse and its contents were seized on said premises, and that, therefore, the search and seizure were valid.

A hearing was had on the motion and the answer thereto. The motion was denied.

Defendant is the wife of Sheldon Teller, with whom she was living with their children on July 23, 1966, when a warrant was issued for his arrest and a search warrant was issued for his dwelling and garage at said address, based on an affidavit of a government agent that he had reason to believe that on the premises known as the dwelling and garage at said address there was concealed

"* * * certain property, namely money which is the fruit of a crime to wit, a violation of Title 21, Sec. 174 U.S. Code.

"And that the facts tending to establish the foregoing grounds for issuance of a Search Warrant are as follows: Information from Samuel Washington, that he paid Sheldon R. Teller, occupant of said premises, $3,000 for narcotic drugs July 21, 1966. C. L. Jackson, nar. agt., informed complainant he saw the delivery of the narcotics. Complainant furnished Washington with the money. According to Agts. Rendina and Hughes they observed said Teller in possession of narcotic paraphernalia on May 4, 1966."

Said premises were entered by virtue of said search warrant and a search thereof was made. At that time the federal agents first saw defendant behind the driver's seat of her Cadillac car, parked in the driveway of the house. After her husband's arrest, she came into the home. She was carrying a navy blue handbag. The officers and agents immediately commenced their search. Both Teller and defendant, as well as their children, were present.

Agent Pringle, together with another agent and a police officer, upon entering the home went immediately to the main bedroom, taking Teller with him, and began to search. Defendant was then in the living room with one of the children.

Later defendant came into the bedroom and walked over and kissed her husband. She left the room on at least one occasion, and came back. She says she was in and out of the bedroom three or four times.

On her first trip to the room, she put a handbag on the corner of the foot of the bed. Search of the room pursuant to the warrant was then in progress. After about twenty minutes Agent Pringle picked up the purse. He inspected it and found several compartments inside with various feminine articles, and two vials containing powders indicating the presence of an opium derivative. He also found car keys and household keys, a pair of women's silk hose, cosmetics, combs, and certain articles that would "normally" be found in a woman's purse, and $530.

He thereupon arrested defendant and warned her about her right to counsel and that any statements she made could be used against her in a court of law. Pringle asked her if the purse belonged to her and she said that it did. He asked her if the $530 belonged to her and she replied in the affirmative and that her husband Sheldon had given it to her to go shopping. He then asked her if the two plastic vials containing the white powder belonged to her, and she said that her husband told her not to answer any questions, that her husband would get their attorney.

1. Arguing that a woman's purse occupies a peculiar status and that this court should take judicial notice of the supreme privacy that a woman attaches to her pocketbook, defendant's counsel says that a purse is an extension of the person, its form being only a matter of expediency, custom and style development over the centuries. While we might, for the sake of ...

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