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United States v. Payner

Significance

The ruling settled the question of whether the supervisory power of the federal court could be substituted for established Fourth Amendment doctrines. Since only the victim of an illegal search, not a third party can claim that his Fourth Amendments rights were violated, the federal courts cannot suppress evidence against the third party, by using its supervisory power. This decision served to limit the uses to which the federal courts could put their supervisory power.

In 1965, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) began investigating the financial activities of American citizens in the Bahamas. This investigation, called "Operation Trade Winds," was headquartered in Florida. In 1972, the IRS became suspicious of the Castle Bank when investigators discovered that a suspected drug trafficker had an account there. Special Agent Richard Jaffe asked Norman Casper, a private investigator and informant, to learn more about the Castle Bank. Casper was already an acquaintance of Castle Bank vice president Michael Wolstencroft. Casper introduced Wolstencroft to Sybol Kennedy, a private investigator. Casper devised the so-called "briefcase caper" when he learned that Wolstencroft would be spending a few days in Miami in January of 1973. On 11 January, Casper told Special Agent Jaffe that he planned to enter an apartment and take Wolstencroft's briefcase. Jaffe told him he would have to clear the plan with his supervisor, Troy Register, Jr., chief of the IRS Intelligence Division in Jacksonville, Florida. Register cleared the plan and Jaffe told Casper to proceed. Casper asked Jaffe for the name of a locksmith who could be "trusted." Wolstencroft arrived on 15 January and went straight to Kennedy's apartment. When the couple left to go out to dinner, Casper entered the apartment using a key that Kennedy had given him. He stole the briefcase and met with the locksmith in a parking lot nearby. The locksmith made a key to fit the lock. Casper took the briefcase and the key to the home of an IRS agent. There Jaffe, Casper, and an IRS photography expert photographed over 400 documents. A lookout called Casper when the couple had finished dinner. Casper returned the briefcase to the apartment one and one-half hours after he had taken it.

During the following two weeks, Jaffe asked Casper to get more information on Castle Bank. Casper sent Kennedy to the Bahamas, where she stole a rolodex file from Wolstencroft's office. The IRS paid Casper $8,000 for his services, and Casper paid Kennedy $1,000 for hers.

The documents in the briefcase indicated a relationship between Castle Bank in the Bahamas and the Bank of Perrine in Florida. Subpoenas issued to the Bank of Perrine revealed the loan guarantee agreement which was the main evidence against Payner at his trial. In this agreement, Payner pledged the money in his Castle Bank account as security for $100,000 loan. Payner was indicted in September of 1976 on a charge of falsifying his 1972 income tax return by denying that he had a foreign bank account.

Payner waived his right to a jury trial and asked that the loan guarantee agreement be suppressed (found inadmissible as evidence). The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio found Payner guilty. However, the court also found that the government got its evidence by using a flagrantly illegal search. The court thus suppressed all the evidence except the 1972 tax return. Since the tax return alone did not show that he had falsified the return, the district court set aside Payner's conviction. The district court found that the government "knowingly and willfully participated in the unlawful seizure of Michael Wolstencroft's briefcase . . . " The court also noted that the government tells its agents that the Fourth Amendment standing limitation permits them to intentionally conduct an unconstitutional search and seizure of one person to get evidence about another. The standing rule states that "a court may not exclude evidence under the Fourth Amendment unless it finds that an unlawful search or seizure violated the defendant's own constitutional rights."

The district court also found that the documents taken from the briefcase led to the discovery of the loan guarantee agreement. Although the search did not violate Payner's Fourth Amendment rights, the district court felt that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment required it to exclude the evidence. Another factor in excluding the evidence was the inherent supervisory power of the federal courts to police the administration of justice in the federal system. This supervisory power serves to deter illegality and protect judicial integrity. This concept of supervisory power also persuaded the District Court to exclude evidence tainted by the government's "knowing and purposeful bad faith hostility to any person's fundamental constitutional rights." The district court concluded that society's interest in deterring law enforcement misconduct by excluding tainted evidence outweighed society's interest in furnishing the court with all of the relevant facts. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court's use of its supervisory power.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1973 to 1980United States v. Payner - Significance, Illegal Actions, Federal Courts