01. CHARACTER OF ACTION: (How did the case reach the United States Supreme Court?)


The case was heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Central Division, where Katz was found guilty. Katz appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit which upheld the conviction. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.

02. FACTS: (Please state the legally relevant facts of the case.)

Katz was accused of participating in illegal gambling operations. FBI agents frequently detected him using a public telephone, which they suspected he was using to transmit gambling data. The agents connected an eavesdropping gadget to the booth without receiving a warrant and without ever accessing the booth, and recorded Katz's conversations. These recordings were used to help convict Katz of sharing betting information by phone - a breach of federal law. Katz appealed and his lawyers insisted that under the Fourth Amendment, the proof against him was obtained unconstitutionally.

03. ISSUE: (What was the constitutional issue raised by the Petitioner?)

Did the wiretapping actions of the government without warrant infringe the petitioner's right against unlawful search and seizure? Yes!

04. DECISION (7-1) (How did the United States Supreme Court decide on the issue?)

The Court reversed the decisions of the lower courts and overturned the conviction of the petitioner. Justice Marshall did not participate in this case's examination or decision.

05. MAJORITY OPINION (by Justice Stewart whom Justices Brennan, Douglas, Fortas, Harlan, Warren, and White joined):

A. The Court refused to accept the petitioner's formulation of the issues, because:
(i) the right approach to the problems of the Fourth Amendment is not necessarily encouraged by the words "constitutionally protected area";
(ii) the notion of the Fourth Amendment cannot be converted into a universal "right to privacy."

B. The Fourth Amendment safeguards individuals, not locations. What a person, consciously reveals to the public, even if he is at home, is not a matter of immunity under the Fourth Amendment.

C. In reasoning against Katz, the government had objected that the phone booth was partly transparent making Katz noticeable. But the Court rejected that argument categorically as missing the point.

D. The majority overturned the "doctrine of trespass" established in Olmstead v. United States (1928) and Goldman v. United States (1942), ruling that the protection of oral communication is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment the same way as concerning tangible objects.

F. The actions of the government in remotely listening to and capturing the speech of the petitioner breached the protection on which he relied rightfully when using the telephone booth and thereby represented a "search and seizure" within the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

G. Although the FBI realized there was a high probability that Katz was violating the law when using the phone booth, their tapping the phone line was an unconstitutional search because there was no search warrant.

06. CONCURRING OPINION (by Justice Harlan):

The Fourth Amendment safeguards every time a person has shown an actual subjective privacy expectation and the public is ready to accept it as "reasonable." This perception of the law is featuring a two-part examination.

07. CONCURRING OPINION (by Justice White):

The government had to obtain a court order authorizing search under this case scenario. However electronic surveillance in matters of national security is an exception from the obligation to obtain a search warrant.

08. CONCURRING OPINION (by Justice Douglas and Justice Brennan):

To distinguish the views of Justices Douglas and Brennan from White’s, the national security should not be exempt from the search warrant requirement.

09. DISSENTING OPINION (by Justice Black):

The Fourth Amendment was intended to protect only areas but not personal privacy from physical search and seizure. The contemporary wiretapping was similar to the eavesdropping, which was around when the Bill of Rights was composed. The drafters must have used the appropriate terminology if they had intended it to include eavesdropping under the protection of the Fourth Amendment.

10. COMMENT: (What impact has this case had in the administration of justice in this area of law? Please cite relevant arguments from legal scholars or attorneys at law as published In law journals - California Law Review, UCLA Law Review, Stanford Law Review, Harvard Law Review, Yale Law Review, etc.)

The ruling in Katz v. United States broadened the scope of the assurances of the Fourth Amendment. The Katz judgment was groundbreaking in that, it was able to reverse binding precedent in reaction to social developments (Note, 2017). The Court acknowledged that property was no longer tied to the rights covered by the Fourth Amendment (Note, 2017). However, according to Hu (2018), technological advances could alter the "reasonable" standards of privacy, bringing into question the continued ability to work successfully of the Katz test. So, Katz v. United States marked an extraordinary change in searches and seizures procedures, but also generated some ambiguity.

11. PRINCIPLE OF THE CASE: (What legal precedent has this case set?)
If a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a conversation, that conversation is protected by the Fourth Amendment and cannot be recorded by the government without a warrant.