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Katz v. United States


FBI agents overheard conversations of the defendant by attaching an electronic listening and recording device to the outside of a public telephone booth from which he had placed his calls. The defendant was charged with transmitting wagering information out of state. At the trial, the court permitted the government to introduce evidence of the defendant’s end of telephone conversations.


Whether the agents’ actions amounted to a Fourth Amendment search?


Yes. The agents conducted a Fourth Amendment search


The Court held that a “search” takes place whenever the government intrudes on a reasonable expectation of privacy. The Court concluded that the defendant’s expectation of privacy was reasonable if he had taken measures to secure his privacy and the defendant’s expectation of privacy met community standards.

What a person seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected under the Fourth Amendment. A person in a telephone booth may rely upon the protection of the Fourth Amendment, and is entitled to assume that the words he utters into the mouthpiece will not be broadcast to the world.

Once the defendant established he met both prongs, any government intrusion into these areas must meet Fourth Amendment standards. The Fourth Amendment demands that all searches be reasonable. Searches conducted without a warrant are presumed to be unreasonable, except for some limited well-delineated exceptions. In this case, the agents did not have a warrant or valid exception.


389 U.S. 347, 88 S. Ct. 507 (1967)

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