Summary of Smith v. Maryland, US Supreme Court, 1979
Statement of the Case:
State is prosecuting a robber, Smith, for robbery when Smith made a threatening phone call from his house to the victim after robbing the victim, and the telephone company installed a pen register to catch the ? upon the police’s request.
Trial court denied the ?’s motion to suppress the “fruits" of the pen register, citing the 4th Amendment was not violated by the pen register. ? was convicted to 6 years.
Woman, McDonough, was robbed. She then began getting threatening and obscene phone calls from someone identifying himself as the robber.
Whether the installation of a “pen register" constitutes a “search" within the meaning of the 4th Amendment when the ? made a threatening phone call from his house and the telephone company installed a pen register to catch the ? upon the police’s request (Whether the ? had a reasonable expectation that the number he dialed would be kept private.).
Judgment affirmed for the State.
The installation of a “pen register" does not constitute a “search" within the meaning of the 4th Amendment when the ? made a threatening phone call from his house and the telephone company installed a pen register to catch the ? upon the police’s request.
- 4th Amendment guards against unreasonable searches and seizures.
- Rule: A “Search" takes place within the meaning of the 4th Amendment when:
- An individual has exhibited an actual subjective expectation of privacy (whether he has shown that he wants to preserve something as private), and
- No, because the number was made public, since a phone user knows that the phone company can get access to the numbers dialed. They are regularly used to track long distance, etc.
- He may have expected to keep the content of his call private, but not the number dialed.
- Whether the individual’s subjective expectation of privacy is some that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable (Whether the individual’s expectation, viewed objectively, is justifiable under the circumstances).
- It is firmly held that a ? can not expect for information he turns over to a 3rd party to be secretly held.
- ? “assumed the risk of disclosure."
- This Case differs from Katz: Pen registers do not acquire the contents of conversations, or even tell if a conversation took place.
- He called from his home, and has important content that should thus not be divulged.
- One who assumes that his phone company will get private information about him has an expectation that this will not be divulged to 3rd parties for other purposes.
- How could you assume the risk of disclosure when you have no control over the taking of your number by the phone company?
- This threat of getting numbers without a warrant will extend to discovering reporters’ secret sources and other sensitive areas.
- Law enforcement should thus be required to get a warrant.