Constitutional Law – Search and Seizure – Evidence of Prior Search as Bearing on Credibility of Defendant’s Testimony

In 1952 petitioner was indicted in a federal court, charged with illegal sales of narcotics. During direct examination by his counsel, petitioner denied ever having had possession of narcotics. On cross-examination by the government, petitioner repeated his denial and continued to do so even when the government questioned him, over his objection, concerning a heroin capsule unlawfully seized in his home in 1950. Evidence of the unlawful seizure in 1950 had been ruled inadmissible in an earlier trial. Petitioner’s denials were squarely in conflict with an affidavit he had filed at the earlier trial. In rebuttal, the government introduced testimony showing the seizure of the capsule from the defendant in 1950. The trial judge admitted the evidence of the previous seizure and charged the jury that the testimony was admitted solely for purposes of impeaching petitioner’s credibility. Petitioner was convicted, and the court of appeals affirmed. On certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, held, affirmed, Justices Black and Douglas dissenting. In a prosecution for unlawful sales of narcotics, the assertion by petitioner on direct examination that he had never possessed any narcotics opened the door, solely for the purpose of attacking his credibility, to evidence that narcotics had been unlawfully seized from him in connection with an earlier prosecution. Walder v. United States, 347 U.S. 62, 74 S. Ct. 354 (1954).