Rochin v. California

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342 U.S. 165 (1952), argued 16 Oct. 1951, decided 2 Jan. 1952 by vote of 8 to 0; Frankfurter for the Court, Minton not participating. Rochin was convicted in a California superior court for possession of a “preparation of morphine,” which doctors pumped from his stomach against his will and on the direction of law enforcement officers. Rochin appealed and charged that the manner of extracting the evidence violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Rochin lost his appeal, the California Supreme Court declined to review his case, but the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. The Court reversed Rochin's conviction, holding that stomach-pumping did constitute a method of obtaining evidence that violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

In his opinion for the Court, Justice Felix Frankfurter emphasized that there was no distinction between a “verbal confession extracted by physical abuse and evidence forced from the petitioner's lips, evidence that consisted of real objects” (p. 167). Frankfurter stressed that the Due Process Clause required that the Court review and challenge state procedures when decency and fairness were suspect, but he indicated that this responsibility did not leave judges free to apply their own personal and private conceptions of due process. In Rochin's case, Frankfurter concluded that the use of stomach-pumping to obtain evidence when conducted without the accused's consent “shocks the conscience” and constitutes “methods too close to the rack and the screw to permit constitutional differentiation” (p. 172).

In separate concurring opinions, Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas argued that the conviction should have been reversed with reference to the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and not the “nebulous standard” employed by Frankfurter (p. 175).

The Supreme Court's eventual incorporation of the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination in Malloy v. Hogan (1964) and the application of the exclusionary rule to the states in Mapp v. Ohio (1961) have rendered moot the majority and minority differences in Rochin, as state criminal procedures can now be reviewed against most provisions of the Bill of Rights.

Susette M. Talarico

Subjects: Law.

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