Rochin v. California (1952)

Supreme Court of the United States

Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165 (1952)


MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Having “some information that [the petitioner here] was selling narcotics,” three deputy sheriffs of the County of Los Angeles, on the morning of July 1, 1949, made for the two-story dwelling house in which Rochin lived with his mother, common law wife, brothers and sisters. Finding the outside door open, they entered and then forced open the door to Rochin’s room on the second floor. Inside they found petitioner sitting partly dressed on the side of the bed, upon which his wife was lying. On a “night stand” beside the bed, the deputies spied two capsules. When asked “Whose stuff is this?”, Rochin seized the capsules and put them in his mouth. A struggle ensued in the course of which the three officers “jumped upon him” and attempted to extract the capsules. The force they applied proved unavailing against Rochin’s resistance. He was handcuffed and taken to a hospital. At the direction of one of the officers, a doctor forced an emetic solution through a tube into Rochin’s stomach against his will. This “stomach pumping” produced vomiting. In the vomited matter were found two capsules which proved to contain morphine.

Rochin was brought to trial before a California Superior Court, sitting without a jury, on the charge of possessing “a preparation of morphine” in violation of the California Health and Safety Code 1947, § 11500. Rochin was convicted and sentenced to sixty days’ imprisonment. The chief evidence against him was the two capsules. They were admitted over petitioner’s objection, although the means of obtaining them was frankly set forth in the testimony by one of the deputies, substantially as here narrated.

On appeal, the District Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction, despite the finding that the officers “were guilty of unlawfully breaking into and entering defendant’s room, and were guilty of unlawfully assaulting and battering defendant while in the room,” and “were guilty of unlawfully assaulting, battering, torturing and falsely imprisoning the defendant at the alleged hospital.” 101 Cal. App. 2d 140, 143, 225 P.2d 1, 3. One of the three judges, while finding that “the record in this case reveals a shocking series of violations of constitutional rights”, concurred only because he felt bound by decisions of his Supreme Court. These, he asserted, “have been looked upon by law enforcement officers as an encouragement, if not an invitation, to the commission of such lawless acts.” ***

The vague contours of the Due Process Clause do not leave judges at large. We may not draw on our merely personal and private notions and disregard the limits that bind judges in their judicial function. Even though the concept of due process of law is not final and fixed, these limits are derived from considerations that are fused in the whole nature of or judicial process. See Cardozo, The Nature of the Judicial Process; The Growth of the Law; The Paradoxes of Legal Science. These are considerations deeply rooted in reason and in the compelling traditions of the legal profession. The Due Process Clause places upon this Court the duty of exercising a judgment, within the narrow confines of judicial power in reviewing State convictions, upon interests of society pushing in opposite directions.


Applying these general considerations to the circumstances of the present case, we are compelled to conclude that the proceedings by which this conviction was obtained do more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism about combatting 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 government to obtain evidence is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities. They are methods too close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.

***On the facts of this case, the conviction of the petitioner has been obtained by methods that offend the Due Process Clause. The judgment below must be reversed.


MR. JUSTICE BLACK, concurring.

Adamson v. California, 332 U. S. 46, 332 U. S. 68-123, sets out reasons for my belief that state, as well as federal, courts and law enforcement officers must obey the Fifth Amendment’s command that “No person . . . shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” I think a person is compelled to be a witness against himself not only when he is compelled to testify, but also when as here, incriminating evidence is forcibly taken from him by a contrivance of modern science. … California convicted this petitioner by using against him evidence obtained in this manner, and I agree with MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS that the case should be reversed on this ground.

In the view of a majority of the Court, however, the Fifth Amendment imposes no restraint of any kind on the states. They nevertheless hold that California’s use of this evidence violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Since they hold as I do in this case, I regret my inability to accept their interpretation without protest. But I believe that faithful adherence to the specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights insures a more permanent protection of individual liberty than that which can be afforded by the nebulous standards stated by the majority.



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