Copyright

Weeks v. United States: Case Brief & Summary

Instructor: Jennifer Schneider

Jennifer teaches critical thinking, legal writing and research, business law and justice studies courses. She has a law degree.

In this lesson we study Weeks v. United States (1914) and learn about the Federal court admissibility of evidence obtained during a search without a warrant. We also work through quiz questions testing your understanding.

Home Sweet Home

Friday has finally arrived and you are looking forward to a quiet weekend. You crave the sanctity of home and a respite from the hectic interactions, conflicts and accusations of the world outside. After a brief stop at the corner pizza shop, you head home, happy with the prospect of a few peaceful hours ahead.

But wait. As you turn a corner you see a car in your driveway and an open front door. An officer exits with a pile of your personal letters. You hadn't provided consent for anyone to enter your premises. Your home is your castle, your turf, your safe haven. You protest and bid adieu to the prospect of a relaxing evening.

Police attempting to breach a locked door
Police breaching a locked door

Our understanding of our homes as our castles means that, when home, we are free from the prospect of unjustified intrusion. Whether or not we are home, others cannot enter our premises without a legal right or warrant to do so. Arguably officials also shouldn't be able to use evidence gathered illegally from our homes against us. But can they?

Personal letters and mail
Personal letters and mail

The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

The 4th Amendment protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. Our Constitution also protects us against warrantless searches of our homes and our possessions.

For many years, though, our courts did not account for how evidence was obtained, when deciding whether the evidence would be admitted in a court of law. Rather, evidence was typically permitted and, if it had been obtained illegally, separate action was taken to prosecute those offenders.

This practice made the 4th Amendment of little (if any) value to many criminal defendants. After all, for a scared defendant charged with a crime and the prospect of fines, imprisonment, and loss of freedom, knowing that the individual who entered his home illegally and took his possessions without consent would be reprimanded offered inadequate comfort and compensation.

In the landmark case of Weeks v. United States (232 U.S. 383) the U.S. Supreme Court addressed this viable concern in connection with Federal court criminal cases.

Background

On December 21, 1911, police officers approached the home of Fremont Weeks, located a key, and entered the premises. The officers entered the premises without Week's consent or the presence of a search warrant. Weeks was at work and remained unaware of these events.

After entering, the police searched the premises and took possession of papers and other personal items. The police, along with a U.S. marshal, returned later that same day, obtained admittance from a boarder and again, without a search warrant or consent, confiscated additional letters and envelopes. A search warrant was not obtained in connection with either visit.

Weeks was later arrested, without a warrant, at his place of employment and charged, in part, with using the mail system to send lottery tickets (which was in violation of the Criminal Code).

Weeks, without awaiting trial, filed a petition for the return of his papers and other property, arguing that the property was unlawfully obtained and held in violation of Week's rights under the U.S. Constitution. Week's motion was denied in part. The lower court initially ordered the return of some, but not all, of the property. All property (although illegally seized) that was pertinent to outstanding criminal charges against Weeks was retained and put in evidence, over Week's objection, during Week's trial.

Weeks was ultimately convicted of a criminal charge that he used the mail system illegally and for the purposes of transporting lottery tickets. The evidence illegally seized from his home was a crucial factor leading to the conviction. Appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court, Weeks argued that the seizing of his private letters violated his 4th and 5th Amendment rights. The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the 4th Amendment.

Privacy and a locked door
Lock on door

Legal Questions

In Weeks v. U.S. the Supreme Court addressed two questions:

Did the warrantless search of (and seizure of items in) Week's home violate his 4th Amendment rights?

Is evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search and seizure admissible in a Federal criminal court prosecution?

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