Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165; 72 S. Ct. 204; 96 L. Ed. 183 (1952)

Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165; 72 S. Ct. 204; 96 L. Ed. 183 (1952)

Facts—Police with information that Rochin might be selling narcotics went to his house, entered an open outside door, forced open the door to his bedroom where he was in bed with his common-law wife, spied two capsules on his nightstand, attempted unsuccessfully to keep Rochin from swallowing them, and subsequently took him to a hospital and had an emetic administered that caused him to vomit them up. On the basis of this evidence, a California superior court convicted Rochin of possessing morphine, a decision affirmed by the district court of appeals and the supreme court of California.

Question—Did police conduct in this case violate due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment?


ReasonsJ. Frankfurter (8–0). States largely control the administration of justice but the Supreme Court has a responsibility to oversee such conduct. The standards used to determine what constitutes due process of law “are not authoritatively formulated anywhere as though they were specifics.” Such determinations, however, need not be arbitrary. Judges do not simply impose their personal views when determining what due process is but derive their conclusions from the wide body of law, and specifically from Anglo- American jurisprudence. In this case, the conduct in question “shocks the conscience.” Frankfurter explained: “Illegally breaking into the privacy of the petitioner, the struggle to open his mouth and remove what was there, the forcible extractions of his stomach’s contents . . . is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities. They are methods too close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.” When conducting investigations, states are bound to “respect certain decencies of civilized conduct.” As in the case of coerced confessions, the methods in this case, “offend the community’s sense of fair play and decency” and “afford brutality the cloak of law.”

J. Black, concurring, accused the majority of formulating too nebulous a standard. He reiterated his argument in Adamson v. California, that the Court should simply apply the Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination to this case. In a separate concurrence, J. Douglas also advocated voiding this conviction “because of the command of the Fifth Amendment.”

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