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

2012-08-28 13:32:30

Police officers entered Rochin’s home and forced their way into this bedroom. When he grabbed two capsules from a table and put them in his mouth a struggle ensued. After failing to forcibly recover the capsules from Rochin’s mouth, the officers took him to a hospital where the capsules, which contained morphine, were recovered from his stomach by chemically induced vomiting. Over the objection of his lawyer the capsules were admitted into evidence, and Rochin was convicted of drug possession. The state court of appeal found that although the officers were guilty of various crimes such as assault and battery, it upheld the conviction.

Applying the due process provision of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court overturned Rochin’s conviction. While aware of the criticism that the inherent vagueness of the due process concept entails a risk that federal judges will impose an amorphous body of ‘‘natural law’’ or their own personal values on state courts, it concluded that police conduct, such as that which occurred here, which shocks the Court’s conscience violates the norms of decency and fairness that underlie due process.

In concurring opinions, Justices Black and Douglas criticized the Court’s reliance on the due process provision and, instead, urged the Court to apply the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination to state criminal prosecutions. A decade later this view became the majority view when the Court, under the leadership of Earl Warren, applied most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.


References and Further Reading

  • LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold H. Israel, and Nancy J. King. Criminal Procedure. 4th ed. St. Paul, MN. Thomson/ West, 2004.
  • Rubin, Peter J., Square Pegs and Round Holes: Substantive Due Process, Procedural Due Process, and the Bill of Rights, Columbia Law Review 103 (2003): 833–92.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • U.S. Const., Fourteenth Amendment U.S. Const., Fifth Amendment

See also Due Process; Self-Incrimination (V): Historical Background; Warren, Earl