Top 10 Cases for Police Series, Part 4

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Editor's Note: With so many cases affecting policing, the question often arises regarding which are the most important. If a law enforcement professional could choose only 10 cases to examine, which would those be? Included in this series is a list of what experts Rolando del Carmen and Jeffery Walker consider to be the top 10 cases most influencing day-to-day policing in the U.S. Continuing from our last installment, in reverse order, we give you number 7: Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952).

Capsule

Some searches are so “shocking to the conscience” that they require exclusion of the evidence seized based on due process.

Facts

Having information that Rochin was selling narcotics, police officers entered his home and forced their way into the bedroom. When asked about two capsules lying beside the bed, Rochin put them in his mouth. After an unsuccessful attempt to recover them by force, the officers took Rochin to the hospital where his stomach was pumped. Two capsules containing morphine were recovered. A motion to suppress this evidence was denied and Rochin was convicted in a California state court of possession of morphine.

Issue

Were the capsules recovered as a result of pumping Rochin’s stomach admissible as evidence in court? NO.

Supreme Court Decision

Although searches by state law enforcement officers are not governed by the exclusionary rule, some searches are so “shocking to the conscience” as to require exclusion of the evidence seized based on the due process (fundamental fairness) clause of the Constitution. These cases are limited to acts of coercion, violence, and brutality.

Reason

“. . . [T]he proceedings by which this conviction was obtained do more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism about combating crime too energetically. This is conduct that shocks the conscience. Illegally breaking into the privacy of the petitioner, the struggle to open his mouth and remove what was there, the forcible extraction of his stomach’s contents — this course of proceeding by agents of the government to obtain evidence is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities. They are methods too close to the rack and screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.”

Case Significance

This case was decided prior to the extension of the exclusionary rule to the states in 1961. In this state prosecution, however, the Court decided that the evidence obtained could not be used in court, not because of the exclusionary rule, but because of the shocking conduct of the police officers, which therefore violated Rochin’s right to due process guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. If the case were to be decided today, the evidence would be excluded under the exclusionary rule, not under the due process clause.

For many more cases, see Briefs of Leading Cases in Law Enforcement, 8th ed., which includes short, easy-to-understand briefs of 185 cases of primary importance to law enforcement officials. www.elsevierdirect.com/product.jsp?isbn=9781437735062

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