Wiretaps, 1928, Olmstead v. United States

Wiretaps, 1928, Olmstead v. United States
William Howard Taft | Wiretaps, 1928, Olmstead v. United States

Wiretaps, 1928, Olmstead v. United States

The Facts of the Case

Roy Olmstead had been suspected of being a bootlegger. Federal agents planted wiretaps in the basement of Olmstead’s building (where he had an office) and in the streets surrounding his home without judicial clearance. The wiretaps provided evidence that led to Olmstead’s conviction. This case was determined alongside Green v. United States, in which Green and several other defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to violate the National Prohibition Act by importing, possessing, and distributing prohibited liquors based on unlawfully obtained wiretapped communications. McInnis v. United States was also decided in this case.


Did the use of evidence obtained from wiretapped private telephone conversations violate the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the recorded party?


No. The recorded parties’ Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights were not infringed upon, according to the Court. Because they were neither forced or illegally forced to conduct those talks, the use of wiretapped conversations as incriminating evidence does not violate their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Instead, the participants and their associates engaged in voluntary talks. Furthermore, because wiretapping does not constitute a search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, the parties’ Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. These terms apply to a physical examination of a person’s person, papers, tangible property, or house, not to their talks. Finally, the Court stated that, while eavesdropping is immoral, no court has the authority to dismiss evidence purely based on moral considerations.


The Right to Privacy (1890);

Prohibition (1918);

The Repeal of Prohibition (1933);

States and the Exclusionary Rule (1961).


Wiretaps, 1928, Olmstead v. United States

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)