Camara v. Mun. Court of the City and County of San Francisco

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation387 U.S. 523,87 S.Ct. 1727,18 L.Ed.2d 930
Docket NumberNo. 92,92
PartiesRoland CAMARA, Appellant, v.
Decision Date05 June 1967

[Syllabus from pages 523-524 intentionally omitted] Marshall W. Krause, San Francisco, Cal., for appellant.

Albert W. Harris, Jr., San Francisco, Cal., for appellee.

Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Frank v. State of Maryland, 359 U.S. 360, 79 S.Ct. 804, 3 L.Ed.2d 877, this Court upheld, by a five-to-four vote, a state court conviction of a homeowner who refused to permit a municipal health inspector to enter and inspect his premises without a search warrant. In Ohio ex rel. Eaton v. Price, 364 U.S. 263, 80 S.Ct. 1463, 4 L.Ed.2d 1708, a similar conviction was affirmed by an equally divided Court. Since those closely divided decisions, more intensive efforts at all levels of government to contain and eliminate urban blight have led to increasing use of such inspection techniques, while numerous decisions of this Court have more fully defined the Fourth Amendment's effect on state and municipal action. E.g., Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081; Ker v. State of California, 374 U.S. 23, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726. In view of the growing nationwide importance of the problem, we noted probable jurisdiction in this case and in See v. City of Seattle, 387 U.S. 541, 87 S.Ct. 1737, 18 L.Ed.2d 943, to re-examine whether administrative inspection programs, as presently authorized and conducted, violate Fourth Amendment rights as those rights are enforced against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. 385 U.S. 808, 87 S.Ct. 31, 17 L.Ed.2d 50.

Appellant brought this action in a California Superior Court alleging that he was awaiting trial on a criminal charge of violating the San Francisco Housing Code by refusing to permit a warrantless inspection of his residence, and that a writ of prohibition should issue to the criminal court because the ordinance authorizing such inspections is unconstitutional on its face. The Superior Court denied the writ, the District Court of Appeal affirmed, and he Supreme Court of California denied a petition for hearing. Appellant properly raised and had considered by the California courts the federal constitutional questions he now presents to this Court.

Though there were no judicial findings of fact in this prohibition proceeding, we shall set forth the parties' factual allegations. On November 6, 1963, an inspector of the Division of Housing Inspection of the San Francisco Department of Public Health entered an apartment building to make a routine annual inspection for possible violations of the city's Housing Code.1 The building's manager informed the inspector that appellant, lessee of the ground floor, was using the rear of his leasehold as a personal residence. Claiming that the building's occupancy permit did not allow residential use of the ground floor, the inspector confronted appellant and demanded that he permit an inspection of the premises. Appellant refused to allow the inspection because the inspector lacked a search warrant.

The inspector returned on November 8, again without a warrant, and appellant again refused to allow an inspection. A citation was then mailed ordering appellant to appear at the district attorney's office. When appellant failed to appear, two inspectors returned to his apartment on November 22. They informed appellant that he was required by law to permit an inspection under § 503 of the Housing Code:

'Sec. 503 RIGHT TO ENTER BUILDING. Authorized employees of the City departments or City agencies, so far as may be necessary for the performance of their duties, shall, upon presentation of proper credentials, have the right to enter, at reasonable times, any building, structure, or premises in the City to perform any duty imposed upon them by the Municipal Code.'

Appellant nevertheless refused the inspectors access to his apartment without a search warrant. Thereafter, a complaint was filed charging him with refusing to permit a lawful inspection in violation of § 507 of the Code.2 Appellant was arrested on December 2 and released on bail. When his demurrer to the criminal complaint was denied, appellant filed this petition for a writ of prohibition.

Appellant has argued throughout this litigation that § 503 is contrary to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments in that it authorizes municipal officials to enter a private dwelling without a search warrant and without probable cause to believe that a violation of the Housing Code exists therein. Consequently, appellant contends, he may not be prosecuted under § 507 for refusing to permit an inspection unconstitutionally authorized by § 503. Relying on Frank v. State of Maryland, Eaton v. Price, and decisions in other States,3 the District Court of Appeal held that § 503 does not violate Fourth Amendment rights because it 'is part of a regulatory scheme which is essentially civil rather than criminal in nature, inasmuch as that section creates a right of inspection which is limited in scope and may not be exercised under unreasonable conditions.' Having concluded that Frank v. State of Maryland, to the extent that it sanctioned such warrantless inspections, must be overruled, we reverse.


The Fourth Amendment provides that, 'The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.' The basic purpose of this Amendment, as recognized in countless decisions of this Court, is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials. The Fourth Amendment thus gives concrete expression to a right of the people which 'is basic to a free society.' Wolf v. People of State of Colorado, 338 U.S. 25, 27, 69 S.Ct. 1359, 1361, 93 L.Ed. 1782. As such, the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Ker v. State of California, 374 U.S. 23, 30, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 1628, 10 L.Ed.2d 726.

Though there has been general agreement as to the fundamental purpose of the Fourth Amendment, translation of the abstract prohibition against 'unreasonable searches and seizures' into workable guidelines for the decision of particular cases is a difficult task which has for many years divided the members of this Court. Nevertheless, one governing principle, justified by history and by current experience, has consistently been followed: except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper con- sent is 'unreasonable' unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant. See, e.g., Stoner v. State of California, 376 U.S. 483, 84 S.Ct. 889, 11 L.Ed.2d 856; United States v. Jeffers, 342 U.S. 48, 72 S.Ct. 93, 96 L.Ed. 59; McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, 69 S.Ct. 191, 93 L.Ed. 153; Agnello v. United States, 269 U.S. 20, 46 S.Ct. 4, 70 L.Ed. 145. As the Court explained in Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10, 14, 68 S.Ct. 367, 369, 92 L.Ed. 436:

'The right of officers to thrust themselves into a home is also a grave concern, not only to the individual but to a society which chooses to dwell in reasonable security and freedom from surveillance. When the right of privacy must reasonably yield to the right of search is, as a rule, to be decided by a judicial officer, not by a policeman or government enforcement agent.'

In Frank v. State of Maryland, this Court upheld the conviction of one who refused to permit a warrantless inspection of private premises for the purposes of locating and abating a suspected public nuisance. Although Frank can arguably be distinguished from this case on its facts,4 the Frank opinion has generally been interpreted as carving out an additional exception to the rule that warrantless searches are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. See Eaton v. Price, supra. The District Court of Appeal so interpreted Frank in this case, and that ruling is the core of appellant's challenge here. We proceed to a re-examination of the factors which er suaded the frank majority to adopt this construction of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches.

To the Frank majority, municipal fire, health, and housing inspection programs 'touch at most upon the periphery of the important interests safeguarded by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection against official intrusion,' 359 U.S., at 367, 79 S.Ct., at 809, because the inspections are merely to determine whether physical conditions exist which do not comply with minimum standards prescribed in local regulartory ordinances. Since the inspector does not ask that the property owner open his doors to a search for 'evidence of criminal action' which may be used to secure the owner's criminal conviction, historic interests of 'self-protection' jointly protected by the Fourth and Fifth Amendments5 are said not to be involved, but only the less intense 'right to be secure from intrusion into personal privacy.' Id., at 365, 79 S.Ct. at 808.

We may agree that a routine inspection of the physical condition of private property is a less hostile intrusion than the typical policeman's search for the fruits and instrumentalities of crime. For this reason alone, Frank differed from the great bulk of Fourth Amendment cases which have been considered by this Court. But we cannot agree that the Fourth Amendment interests at stake in these inspection cases are merely 'peripheral.' It is surely anomalous to say that the individual and his private property are fully protected by the Fourth Amendment only when the individual is suspected of criminal behavior.6 For instance, even the most law-abiding citi- zen has a very tangible...

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