412 U.S. 291 (1973), 72-212, Cupp v. Murphy

Docket Nº:No. 72-212
Citation:412 U.S. 291, 93 S.Ct. 2000, 36 L.Ed.2d 900
Party Name:Cupp v. Murphy
Case Date:May 29, 1973
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 291

412 U.S. 291 (1973)

93 S.Ct. 2000, 36 L.Ed.2d 900

Cupp

v.

Murphy

No. 72-212

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 1973

Argued March 20, 1973

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Over respondent's protest and without a warrant, police in the course of station house questioning in connection with a murder took samples from the respondent's fingernails and discovered evidence used to convict him. Respondent had come to the station house voluntarily, and had not been arrested, although he was detained and there was probable cause to believe that he had committed the murder. In reversing the District Court's denial of habeas corpus, the Court of Appeals concluded that, absent arrest or other exigent circumstances, the search was unconstitutional.

Held: In view of the station house detention upon probable cause, the very limited intrusion undertaken to preserve highly evanescent evidence was not violative of [93 S.Ct. 2002] the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 293-296.

461 F.2d 1006, reversed.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring statement, post, p. 297. MARSHALL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 297. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 300. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 300. DOUGLAS, J., post, p. 301, and BRENNAN, J., post, p. 305, filed opinions dissenting in part.

Page 292

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The respondent, Daniel Murphy, was convicted by a jury in an Oregon court of the second-degree murder of his wife. The victim died by strangulation in her home in the city of Portland, and abrasions and lacerations were found on her throat. There was no sign of a break-in or robbery. Word of the murder was sent to the respondent, who was not then living with his wife. Upon receiving the message, Murphy promptly telephoned the Portland police and voluntarily came into Portland for questioning. Shortly after the respondent's arrival at the station house, where he was met by retained counsel, the police noticed a dark spot on the respondent's finger. Suspecting that the spot might be dried blood, and knowing that evidence of strangulation is often found under the assailant's fingernails, the police asked Murphy if they could take a sample of scrapings from his fingernails. He refused. Under protest and without a warrant, the police proceeded to take the samples, which turned out to contain traces of skin and blood cells, and fabric from the victim's nightgown. This incriminating evidence was admitted at the trial.

The respondent appealed his conviction, claiming that the fingernail scrapings were the product of an unconstitutional search under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, 2 Ore.App. 251, 465 P.2d 900, and we denied certiorari, 400 U.S. 944. Murphy then commenced the present action for federal habeas corpus relief.

Page 293

The District Court, in an unreported decision, denied the habeas petition, and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, 461 F.2d 1006. The Court of Appeals assumed the presence of probable cause to search or arrest, but held that in the absence of an arrest or other exigent circumstances, the search was unconstitutional. Id. at 1007. We granted certiorari, 409 U.S. 1036, to consider the constitutional question presented.

The trial court, the Oregon Court of Appeals, and the Federal District Court all agreed that the police had probable cause to arrest the respondent at the time they detained him and scraped his fingernails. As the Oregon Court of Appeals said,

At the time the detectives took these scrapings they knew:

The bedroom in which the wife was found dead showed no signs of disturbance, which fact tended to indicate a killer known to the victim rather, than to a burglar or other stranger.

The decedent's son, the only other person in the house that night, did not have fingernails which could have made the lacerations observed on the victim's throat.

The defendant and his deceased wife had had a stormy marriage, and did not get along well.

The defendant had, in fact, been at his home on the night of the murder. He left and drove back to central Oregon, claiming that he did not enter the house or see his wife. He volunteered a great deal of information without being asked, yet expressed no concern or curiosity about his wife's fate.

2 Ore.App. at 259-260, 465 P.2d at 904. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit did not disagree with the conclusion that the police had probable cause to make an arrest, 461 F.2d at 1007, nor do we.

Page 294

[93 S.Ct. 2003] It is also undisputed that the police did not obtain an arrest warrant or formally "arrest" the respondent, as that term is understood under Oregon law.1 The respondent was detained only long enough to take the fingernail scrapings, and was not formally "arrested" until approximately one month later. Nevertheless, the detention of the respondent against his will constituted a seizure of his person, and the Fourth Amendment guarantee of freedom from "unreasonable searches and seizures" is clearly implicated, cf. United States v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1; Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19. As the Court said in Davis v. Mississippi, 394 U.S. 721, 726-727,

Nothing is more clear than that the Fourth Amendment was meant to prevent wholesale intrusions upon the personal security of our citizenry, whether these intrusions be termed "arrests" or "investigatory detentions."

In Davis, the Court held that fingerprints obtained during the brief detention of persons seized in a police dragnet procedure, without probable cause, were inadmissible in evidence. Though the Court recognized that fingerprinting "involves none of the probing into an individual's private life and thoughts that marks an interrogation or search," id. at 727, the Court held the station house detention in that case to be violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. "Investigatory seizures would subject unlimited numbers of innocent persons to the harassment and ignominy incident to involuntary detention," id. at 726.

The respondent in this case, like Davis, was briefly detained at the station house. Yet here there was, as three courts have found, probable cause to believe that

Page 295

the respondent had committed the murder. The vice of the detention in Davis is therefore absent in the case before us. Cf. United States v. Dionisio, supra.

The inquiry does not end here, however, because Murphy was subjected to a search as well as a seizure of his person. Unlike the fingerprinting in Davis, the voice exemplar...

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