359 U.S. 360 (1959), 278, Frank v. Maryland

Docket Nº:No. 278
Citation:359 U.S. 360, 79 S.Ct. 804, 3 L.Ed.2d 877
Party Name:Frank v. Maryland
Case Date:May 04, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 360

359 U.S. 360 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 804, 3 L.Ed.2d 877




No. 278

United States Supreme Court

May 4, 1959

Argued March 5, 1959



A Baltimore City health inspector seeking the source of a rat infestation discovered evidence of such an infestation in the rear of appellant's home, and, having no search warrant, requested appellant's permission to inspect his basement in the daytime. For refusing such permission, appellant was convicted and fined for a violation of § 120 of Art. 12 of the Baltimore City Code, which provides that

Whenever the Commissioner of Health shall have cause to suspect that a nuisance exists in any house, cellar, or enclosure, he may demand entry therein in the day time, and if the owner or occupier shall refuse or delay to open the same and admit a free examination, he shall forfeit and pay for every such refusal the sum of Twenty Dollars.

Held: Section 120 is valid, and appellant's conviction for resisting an inspection of his house without a warrant did not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Pp. 361-373.


Page 361

FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Acting on a complaint from a resident of the 4300 block of Reisterstown Road, Baltimore, Maryland, that there were rats in her basement, Gentry, an inspector of the Baltimore City Health Department, began an inspection of the houses in the vicinity looking for the source of the rats. In the middle of the afternoon of February 27, 1958, Gentry knocked on the door or appellant's detached frame home at 4335 Reisterstown Road. After receiving no response, he proceeded to inspect the area outside the house. This inspection revealed that the house was in an "extreme state of decay," and that, in the rear of the house, there was a pile later identified as "rodent feces mixed with straw and trash and debris to approximately half a ton." During this inspection, appellant came around the side of the house and asked Gentry to explain his presence. Gentry responded that he had evidence of rodent infestation and asked appellant for permission to inspect the basement area. Appellant refused. At no time did Gentry have a warrant authorizing him to enter. The next forenoon, Gentry, in the company of two police officers, returned to appellant's house. After receiving no response to his knock, he reinspected the exterior of the premises. He then swore out a warrant for appellant's arrest alleging a violation of § 120 of Art. 12 of the Baltimore City Code. That section provides:

Whenever the Commissioner of Health shall have cause to suspect that a nuisance exists in any house, cellar or enclosure, he may demand entry therein in the day time, and if the owner or occupier shall refuse or delay to open the same and admit a free examination, he shall forfeit and pay for every such refusal the sum of Twenty Dollars.

Page 362

Appellant was arrested on March 5, and the next day was found guilty of the offense alleged in the warrant by a Police Justice for the Northern District of Baltimore and fined twenty dollars. On appeal, the Criminal Court of Baltimore, in a de novo proceeding, also found appellant guilty. The Maryland Court of Appeals denied certiorari. The case came here under a challenge, 28 U.S.C. § 1257(2), to the validity of § 120, to determine whether appellant's conviction for resisting an inspection of his house without a warrant was obtained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The Health Code of the City of Baltimore, of which § 120 is an important part, deals with many of the multiform aspects of hygiene in modern urban areas. A vital portion concerns the hygiene of housing. Typical of the content and method of enforcing its provisions is the section requiring that

[e]very dwelling and every part thereof shall be kept clean and free from any accumulation of dirt, filth, rubbish, garbage or similar matter, and shall be kept free from vermin or rodent infestation.

Baltimore City Code, Art. 12, § 112. If the occupant of a building fails to meet this standard, he is notified by the Commissioner of Health to abate the substandard [79 S.Ct. 807] conditions.1 Failure to remove these hazards to community health gives rise to criminal prosecution. Ibid. The attempted inspection of appellant's home was merely to ascertain the existence of evils to be corrected upon due notification or, in default of such correction, to be made the basis of punishment.

We have said that "[t]he security of one's privacy against arbitrary intrusion by the police" is fundamental to a free society, and, as such, protected by the Fourteenth

Page 363

Amendment. Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 27. Application of the broad restraints of due process compels inquiry into the nature of the demand being made upon individual freedom in a particular context and the justification of social need on which the demand rests.

The history of the constitutional protection against official invasion of the citizen's home makes explicit the human concerns which it was meant to respect. In years prior to the Revolution, leading voices in England and the Colonies protested against the ransacking by Crown officers of the homes of citizens in search of evidence of crime or of illegally imported goods. The vivid memory by the newly independent Americans of these abuses produced the Fourth Amendment as a safeguard against such arbitrary official action by officers of the new Union, as like provisions had already found their way into State Constitutions.

In 1765, in England, what is properly called the great case of Entick v. Carrington, 19 Howell's State Trials, col. 1029, announced the principle of English law which became part of the Bill of Rights and whose basic protection has become imbedded in the concept of due process of law. It was there decided that English law did not allow officers of the Crown to break into a citizen's home, under cover of a general executive warrant, to search for evidence of the utterance of libel. Among the reasons given for that decision were these:

It is very certain, that the law obligeth no man to accuse himself; because the necessary means of compelling self-accusation, falling upon the innocent as well as the guilty, would be both cruel and unjust; and it should seem that search for evidence is disallowed upon the same principle. There, too, the innocent would be confounded with the guilty.

Id. at col. 1073.

Page 364

These were not novel pronouncements to the colonists. A few years earlier, in Boston, revenue officers had been authorized to sue Writs of Assistance, empowering them to search suspected places, including private houses, for smuggled goods. In 1761, the validity of the use of the Writs was contested in the historic proceedings in Boston. James Otis attacked the Writ of Assistance because its use placed "the liberty of every man in the hands of every petty officer."2 His powerful argument so impressed itself first on his audience and later on the people of all the Colonies that President Adams was in retrospect moved to say that "American Independence was then and there born."3 Many years later, this Court, in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, carefully reviewed this history and pointed out, as did Lord Camden in Entick v. Carrington, that

. . . the "unreasonable searches and seizures" condemned in the Fourth Amendment are almost always made for the purpose of compelling a man to give

Page 365

evidence against himself, which in criminal cases is condemned in the Fifth Amendment; and compelling a man "in a criminal case to be a witness against himself," which is condemned in the Fifth Amendment, throws light on the question as to what is an "unreasonable search and seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

116 U.S. at 633.

Against this background, two protections emerge from the broad constitutional proscription of official invasion. The first of these is the right to be secure from intrusion into personal privacy, the right to shut the door on officials of the state unless their entry is under proper authority of law. The second, and intimately related protection, is self-protection: the right to resist unauthorized entry which has as its design the securing of information to fortify the coercive power of the state against the individual, information which may be used to effect a further deprivation of life or liberty or property. Thus, evidence of criminal action may not, save in very limited and closely confined situations, be seized without a judicially issued search warrant. It is this aspect of the constitutional protection to which the quoted passages from Entick v. Carrington and Boyd v. United States refer. Certainly it is not necessary to accept any particular theory of the interrelationship of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments4 to realize what history makes plain -- that it was on the issue of the right to be secure from searches for evidence to be used in criminal prosecutions or for forfeitures that the great battle for fundamental liberty was fought. While these concerns for individual rights were the historic impulses behind the Fourth Amendment and its analogues in state constitutions, the application

Page 366

of the Fourth Amendment and the extent to which the essential right of privacy is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment are, of course, not restricted within these historic bounds.

But giving the fullest scope to this constitutional right to privacy, its protection cannot be here invoked. The attempted inspection of appellant's home is merely to determine whether conditions exist which the Baltimore Health...

To continue reading