Nardone v. United States, 308 U.S. 338 (1939)

2012-08-07 04:53:38

In a previous decision in the same case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that evidence taken in violation of Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934 could not be used as a ‘‘vital part of the prosecution’s proof’’ to help secure a conviction for frauds on revenue. After a new trial, the accused attempted to discover to what extent the illegal evidence had been used. The Court looked broadly at the question at hand: whether or not evidence improperly taken under Section 605 of the Communications Act of 1934 precludes any use of the evidence by the prosecution.

In resolving the question, the Court sought to balance the apparent disharmonious goals of the stern enforcement of Criminal Law, and the protection of privacy guaranteed by the Constitution and other laws. The Court explained that in order to properly balance these goals, meaning must be given to statutory language, even if not explicitly stated, so as to effectuate the policy behind the law. The Court held that where evidence is taken in violation of the law, any use by the prosecution should be forbidden; otherwise, the Court would ‘‘invite the very methods deemed inconsistent with ethical standards and destructive of personal liberty.’’ The Court found that the accused carries the initial burden of proving that the evidence was unlawfully employed and that the use provided a substantial portion of the case against the accused. The government would then have the opportunity to show that its use had an independent origin.


References and Further Reading

  • Charles, D.M. ‘‘Informing FDR: FBI Political Surveillance and the Isolationist–Interventionist Foreign Policy Debate, 1939–1945.’’ Diplomatic History 24, no. 2 (2000): 211–32.
  • Gouled v. United States, 255 U.S. 298 (1921).
  • Silverthorne Lumber Co. v. United States, 251 U.S. 385 (1920).

See also Electronic Surveillance, Technological Monitoring, and Dog Sniffs; Exclusionary Rule