Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517 (1984)

2012-07-13 06:51:38

In Hudson v. Palmer, the Supreme Court held that a prisoner has no Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures of his or her prison cell. The prisoner plaintiff alleged that a guard had conducted a ‘‘shakedown’’ search of his cell to harass him, and ‘‘intentionally destroyed certain of his noncontraband personal property.’’ The Court unanimously agreed that no procedural due process right arises from unauthorized intentional deprivations if there is a meaningful postdeprivation remedy. It split five to four, however, on the question of whether prisoners retain ‘‘any residuum of privacy or possessory rights’’ (Stevens, J., dissenting).

Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Burger posited that although a prisoner may have a subjective expectation of privacy, society did not recognize it as reasonable in light of institutional security concerns. Accordingly, the Court held that ‘‘the Fourth Amendment proscription against unreasonable searches does not apply within the confines of the prison cell,’’ reasoning that affording prisoners a privacy right in their cells would defeat effective, safe prison administration.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stevens questioned whether ‘‘society’’ would divest prisoners of all privacy interests in their cells. He eloquently described the practical importance of these interests and the basis for their protection in the Fourteenth, Eighth and First Amendments: ‘‘Personal letters, snapshots of family members, a souvenir . . . may enable a prisoner to maintain contact with some part of his past and an eye to the possibility of a better future.’’


References and Further Reading

  • Hall, Kermit L., et al., eds. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Boston, John, and Daniel E. Manville. Prisoners’ Self-Help Litigation Manual. 3rd ed. New York: Oceana Publications, 1995.
  • Junker, John M., The Structure of the Fourth Amendment: The Scope of the Protection, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 79 (1989): 1105:1163–6.
  • Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967).
  • Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527 (1981).

See also Prisoners and Free Speech