Berger v. New York

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Berger v. New York
Case Title Ralph Berger v. State of New York, 388 U.S. 41 (1967)
Date 1967
Appealed No
Personal Information
Link to Ruling
Country/Jurisdiction United States
State or Province
Regulatory Bodies
Decided Yes
Arbitrator US Supreme Court
Related Laws Constitution - Amendment IV, N.Y. Crim. Proc. Code § 813-a., Constitution - Amendment XIV

Short Summary

Berger v. New York addressed questions pertaining to the Fourth Amendment. This decision overruled the precedent set by Olmstead v. United States. This precedent established in 1928 held that a wiretap was not included in the protections of the Fourth Amendment because there was no seizure of a tangible object. Berger addressed this question many decades later when wiretapping was common and new technologies were being introduced.

Rule: Under the Fourth Amendment warrants may only 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. Probable cause under the Fourth Amendment exists where the facts and circumstances within the affiant's knowledge, and of which he has reasonably trustworthy information, are sufficient unto themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed.


A New York state law authorized judges to grant warrants for eavesdropping via wiretap if there was reasonable ground to believe that the eavesdropping would uncover evidence of a crime. The state law required an oath of a district attorney, attorney general, or high-ranking police officer that such reasonable grounds existed for the eavesdropping. The oath was required to state at whom the eavesdropping was directed, the telephone number involved, and the duration of the eavesdropping, which could not be longer than two months. The State of New York (plaintiff) brought a claim against Ralph Berger (defendant) for bribery after wiretapping a conversation between Berger and a third party. Berger challenged the constitutionality of the statute, arguing that it violated the Fourth Amendment. The trial court held the statute was valid and the appellate court affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.


United States Supreme Court decision invalidating a New York law under the Fourth Amendment, because the statute authorized electronic eavesdropping without required procedural safeguards.