The Federal Constitution and Landmark Cases in United States Legal History Cases: Weems v United States Olmstead v United States Carroll v United States By Chris Carmo, Christopher Musachio and Alon Friedman
Weems v. United States Eighth Amendment “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.“ Plaintiff: Paul A. Weems Defendant: United States of America
Background Information Paul A. Weems was convicted of falsifying an official document in order to defraud the Filipino government. (During this case the Philippines were a US Colony.) This trial was the result of the conviction. Weems was sentenced to 15 years of prison, during which he would be chained and subject to “hard and painful labor.” The US Supreme Court chose to hear his case because of the Eighth Amendment concerns caused by such a long sentence, and the conditions of it.
Weems v United States The Supreme Court decided that two parts of the Philippines decision constituted “Cruel and Unusual Punishment” as forbidden by the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution. The sentence and the conditions were considered inhumane and cruel thus the decision was reversed and the charges dropped. The laws themselves were deemed to be in error since any of the punishments would have offended the Bill of Rights. Weems could not be tried under any other laws and was thus free.
Carroll v. United States Background Information George Carroll was on his way to sell illegal liquor to an undercover prohibition officer Another officer on regular patrol of the highway pulled Carroll over and searched his car, and found the illegal liquor. Carroll claimed that his car was searched illegally, even though the highway officer had reason to believe he had liquor in the car.
Amendment Involved The Fourth Amendment involved in the Carroll v. United States case. The Fourth Amendment states that an authority figure has no right to search and seizure without a warrant. Carroll claimed that this right had been violated when the officer searched his car without a warrant.
Amendment Involved Fourth Amendment “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
Results of the Case The court ruled in favor of the United States. Since there was probable cause to search the vehicle and it was impractical to get a search warrant, given the mobility of the vehicle, the court upheld the warrantless search of the car.
Olmstead v. United States Roy Olmstead was a suspected bootlegger and was illegally wiretapped by federal agents which allowed him to be convicted of violating the National Prohibition Act. When brought to the Supreme Court they found that it was legal even without the warrant because they felt that the 4th amendment applies to tangible evidence and that recordings don’t count as testifying against oneself.
Background Information Olmstead stated that by using the taped recordings of himself it made him a witness against himself. Olmstead also claimed that since the federal agents didn’t gain permission for the wiretap from a judge that it violated his right from illegal search and seizure.
Amendment In Question The Fourth Amendment states that people have a right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects unless a specific search warrant has been acquired. The part of the Fifth Amendment that is being questioned states that people cannot be compelled to be a witness against themselves.
Fifth Amendment “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Results The decision is later overturned by the court case Katz v. United States.