Smith v. Maryland

Smith v. Maryland

U.S. Supreme Court
442 U.S. 735 (1979)

ISSUE: Was the installation of a pen register on D's phone line which recorded only the numbers dialed on the phone line without a warrant a search against which D was protected by the 4th Amdt.?
HOLDING: No, D had no actual expectation of privacy in the phone numbers he dialed, and even if he did, his expectation was not "legitimate."
FACTS:
  • V (McDonough) was robbed and began receiving suspicious phone calls at her residence, and she saw a Monte Carlo rolling by her house outside
  • Police traced a Monte Carlo to D, so they had a pen register installed on D's phone line w/o a warrant to see if D was making the calls to V
  • One such call to V was then made on D's line, so D was arrested
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial Ct. held that the warrantless installation of the pen register did not violate D's 4th Amdt. rights
  • D convicted of robbery
RULES:
  • 4th Amdt.: Guarantees "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures."
  • Katz: Application of the 4th Amdt. depends on whether the person invoking its protection can claim a "justifiable," a "reasonable," or a "legitimate expectation of privacy" that has been invaded by government action
    1. Whether the individual, by his conduct, has exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy - whether the individual has shown that he seeks to preserve something as private
    2. Whether the individual's subjective expectation of privacy is one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable" - whether it is justifiable under the circumstances
  • Miller: No legitimate expectation of privacy in information one voluntarily turns over to third parties that is then revealed to police
REASONING:
  • Obviously no physical invasion of D's property or a constitutionally protected area because pen register was installed at the phone company
  • Pen register different than listening device used inKatz because the register does not acquire thecontents of the communications, just the numbers
    • Cannot even determine that a communication actually existed from the pen register
  • No "legitimate expectation of privacy": General public does not have an actual expectation that numbers they dial on their phone lines will be kept secret
    • People know that the numbers they dial may be recorded by the phone company because they show up on long-distance bills
    • People know that pen registers may be used to identify people making annoying or obscene calls
  • Site of dialing immaterial: While D contends that he demonstrated his expectation of privacy by making the call in his own home, the site of the call in a private place only goes to show that D wanted to keep thecontents of the call private, not the numbers dialed
    • Even if D entertained a subjective expectation that the numbers dialed would be kept private, such expectation is not one that society is prepared to recognize as "reasonable"
  • Voluntarily conveyed phone numbers: Since D voluntarily conveyed the phone numbers to the phone company, he has no legitimate expectation of privacy
    • Immaterial that automatic switching equipment was used and not a human operator

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