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Draper v. United States


This decision authorized a warrantless arrest by a federal narcotic agent under the federal narcotics laws based solely on information from a paid informant. Because the informant was employed by the agent to provide such information and his information had always been reliable in the past, the informant's statements to the agent, once verified by the agent's personal observations, gave the agent probable cause and reasonable grounds to believe that petitioner was violating the narcotics law. Since the arrest of petitioner was lawful, the subsequent search which turned up heroin was also valid as incident to the lawful arrest.

In 1791, the states ratified the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures and requiring probable cause for warrants. The newly independent states had learned through their experience with English law that the power to make arrests, searches, and seizures was open to abuse. English writs of assistance and general warrants, which allowed police to search and arrest based on mere suspicion without evidence of unlawful acts, had been exercised by English authorities arbitrarily and for political reasons. "Probable cause" is not defined in the Fourth Amendment, and its meaning has been the subject of numerous U.S. Supreme Court rulings. In 1959, the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether information from a paid informant was sufficient to show "probable cause" for a warrantless arrest.

In 1956, petitioner was arrested by a federal narcotics agent based on information given to the agent by a paid informant. A subsequent search of petitioner uncovered heroin. Petitioner was charged in federal district court with knowingly concealing and transporting narcotic drugs in violation of federal law. The district court overruled the petitioner's motion to suppress, or exclude from evidence, the heroin taken from him during the search. The motion claimed that the arrest and subsequent search were unlawful. At trial, the heroin was allowed into evidence over petitioner's objection, and he was convicted. The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the conviction. Petitioner sought a writ of certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court, a method by which the Supreme Court is asked to review a lower court decision. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1954 to 1962Draper v. United States - Significance, Informant Provided "reasonable Grounds", Dissent Says Arrest Unlawful, Impact, Related Cases