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Draper v. United States

Informant Provided "reasonable Grounds"

The Supreme Court affirmed the lower courts' rulings that the search of petitioner and seizure of the heroin were valid as incident to a lawful arrest and that the heroin was properly admitted at trial. The Fourth Amendment requires "probable cause" for an arrest. Under the federal Narcotic Control Act of 1956, agents of the Bureau of Narcotics were permitted to "make arrests without warrant for violations of any law of the United States relating to narcotic drugs . . . [if the arresting person] has reasonable grounds to believe that the person to be arrested has committed or is committing such violation." Thus, the "crucial question" for the Court was whether knowledge of the related facts and circumstances gave the agent who arrested petitioner "probable cause" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and "reasonable grounds" within the meaning of the Narcotic Control Act, to believe that petitioner had committed or was committing a violation of the narcotic laws. According to the Court, if "probable cause" and "reasonable grounds" existed, the arrest, though without a warrant, was lawful and the subsequent search of petitioner's person and the seizure of the heroin were validly made incident to a lawful arrest. Moreover, if the arrest, search, and seizure were valid, the motion to suppress was properly overruled and the heroin was competently received in evidence at trial.

The petitioner did not dispute this analysis of the issue, but instead asserted that the information from the paid informant was "hearsay," meaning that the information did not reflect the direct personal observations of the agent, but was obtained secondhand from the informant. The petitioner claimed that "hearsay" information could not be considered in determining "probable cause" or "reasonable grounds." The petitioner also argued that, even if hearsay could be considered, the information given to the agent in this case was insufficient to show "probable cause" or "reasonable grounds." The Supreme Court first determined that "probable cause" and "reasonable grounds" had substantially the same meaning. The Court then ruled, as to petitioner's first contention, that Brinegar v. United States (1949), had conclusively determined that evidence that is inadmissible to show guilt at trial, such as hearsay, may nonetheless be used to determine probable cause. Quoting from Brinegar, the Court explained that "[t]here is a large difference between . . . [guilt and probable cause], as well as between the tribunals which determine them, and therefore a like difference in the quanta and modes of proof required to establish them."

The Court also disagreed with petitioner's second contention that the information given to the agent by the informant was insufficient to show "probable cause" and "reasonable grounds" to believe that petitioner had violated or was violating the narcotic laws and to justify his arrest without a warrant. The informant identified petitioner by name and told the agent that the petitioner was peddling narcotics, had gone to Chicago to obtain a supply, and would return on a certain train on a certain day or the day after. The informant also gave the agent a detailed physical description of petitioner and of the clothing he was wearing and said that he would be carrying "a tan zipper bag," and that he habitually "walked real fast." The agent met the train on both days identified by the informant and on the second day saw a person, having the exact physical attributes and wearing the precise clothing described by [the informant], alight from an incoming Chicago train and start walking "fast" toward the exit. He was carrying a tan zipper bag in his right hand.

The Court concluded that, although the informant's information may have been "hearsay" to the agent, the agent would have been derelict in his duties had he not pursued it since the informant was employed for that purpose and his information had always been found accurate and reliable. Moreover, by the time of the arrest, the agent had personally verified through his own observations every facet of the information given to him by the informant except whether petitioner had narcotics. The Court concluded that "surely, with every other bit of [the informant's] information being thus personally verified, [the agent] had `reasonable grounds' to believe that the remaining unverified bit of [the informant's] information--that [petitioner] would have the heroin with him--was likewise true." The Court stated that, "In dealing with probable cause, . . . as the very name implies, we deal with probabilities. These are not technical; they are the factual and practical considerations of everyday life on which reasonable and prudent men, not legal technicians, act."

The Supreme Court upheld the state courts' rulings that the agent had probable cause and reasonable grounds to believe that petitioner was violating drug laws at the time he arrested petitioner, that the arrest was therefore lawful, and that the subsequent search and seizure were likewise valid, as incident to that lawful arrest. The Court also affirmed the trial court's denial of petitioner's motion to suppress and the use of the seized heroin to convict petitioner.

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