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The Vinson Court (1946–53)

Introduction

What type of police conduct did the Vinson Court say “shocks the conscience?”

The Vinson Court unanimously ruled in Rochin v. California (1952) that police officers violated the Due Process Clause when they forcibly entered the home of a man suspected of selling narcotics. The police then opened the bedroom door of Antonio Richard Rochin and noticed that he had swallowed something. The officers suspected that he had swallowed narcotics. They seized Rochin, took him to a hospital, and pumped his stomach. The stomach showed that Rochin had swallowed some narcotics. Writing for the Court, Justice Felix Frankfurter said such conduct by the police “shocks the conscience.” He explained:

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 proceedings 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.



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