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Coolidge v. New Hampshire


The defendant, a murder suspect, admitted to a theft. Other officers went to the defendant’s house to corroborate his admission to the theft. The defendant was not home but his wife agreed to speak to the officers. The officers asked about any guns that might be in the house. The defendant’s wife showed them four weapons that she offered to let them take. The officers took the weapons and several articles of clothing acquired in the same manner. One gun was later determined to be the murder weapon.


Whether the officers obtained the murder weapon and the clothing through an illegal search?


No. The officers obtained this evidence through private actions.


The Fourth Amendment controls governmental actions. The Fourth Amendment was not implicated when the government obtained the guns and clothing from the defendant’s wife. The government exerted no effort to coerce or dominate her, and was not obligated to refuse her offer to take the guns. In making these and other items available to the government, she was not acting as an instrument or agent of the government. The items were secured through private actions.


403 U.S. 443, 91 S. Ct. 2022 (1971)

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