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STEFANELLI ET AL. v. MINARD ET AL.

decided: December 3, 1951.

STEFANELLI ET AL
v.
MINARD ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT.

Vinson, Black, Reed, Frankfurter, Douglas, Jackson, Burton, Clark; Minton took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Author: Frankfurter

[ 342 U.S. Page 117]

 MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners asked equitable relief from the Federal District Court to prevent the fruit of an unlawful search by New Jersey police from being used in evidence in a State

[ 342 U.S. Page 118]

     criminal trial. The suit was brought under R. S. § 1979, 8 U. S. C. § 43, providing for redress against "Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . ."*fn1 Upon respondents' motion, the District Court dismissed the complaints, "it appearing that the plaintiffs have not exhausted their remedies under state law." The Court of Appeals affirmed. 184 F.2d 575. Since it raises important questions touching the Civil Rights Act in the context of our federal system we brought the case here. 341 U.S. 930.

Two suits, arising out of separate series of events, were consolidated in the Court of Appeals and are before us as one case. The facts do not differ materially. Newark police officers entered petitioners' homes without legal authority. There they seized property of petitioners useful in bookmaking, a misdemeanor under N. J. Rev. Stat. 2:135-3.

[ 342 U.S. Page 119]

     It is not disputed that these searches, if made by federal officers, would have violated the Fourth Amendment. Stefanelli was arrested, arraigned and subsequently indicted for bookmaking. He pleaded not guilty. The other petitioners, after hearing, were held on the same charge to await the action of the Essex County grand jury. All allege that the seized property is destined for evidence against them in the New Jersey criminal proceedings. Petitioners have made no move in the State courts to suppress the evidence, justifying their failure to do so on the ground that under existing New Jersey law the seized property is admissible without regard to the illegality of its procurement.

Petitioners invoke our decision in Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25. The precise holding in that case was "that in a prosecution in a State court for a State crime the Fourteenth Amendment does not forbid the admission of evidence obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure." Id., at 33. Although our holding was thus narrowly confined, in the course of the opinion it was said: "The security of one's privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police -- which is at the core of the Fourth Amendment -- is basic to a free society. It is therefore implicit in 'the concept of ordered liberty' and as such enforceable against the States through the Due Process Clause. . . . Accordingly, we have no hesitation in saying that were a State affirmatively to sanction such police incursion into privacy it would run counter to the guaranty of the Fourteenth Amendment." Id., at 27-28. There was disagreement as to the legal consequences of this view, but none as to its validity. We adhere to it. Upon it is founded the argument of petitioners.

If the Fourteenth Amendment forbids unreasonable searches and seizures by the States, they contend, such a search and seizure by State police officers subjects its victims to the deprivation, under color of State law, of a

[ 342 U.S. Page 120]

     right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution for which redress is afforded by R. S. § 1979. Appropriate redress, they urge, is a suit in equity to suppress the evidence in ...


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