Winston v. Lee

Decision Date20 March 1985
Docket NumberNo. 83-1334,83-1334
Citation470 U.S. 753,84 L.Ed.2d 662,105 S.Ct. 1611
PartiesAndrew J. WINSTON, Sheriff and Aubrey M. Davis, Jr., Petitioners v. Rudolph LEE, Jr
CourtU.S. Supreme Court
Syllabus

A shopkeeper was wounded by gunshot during an attempted robbery but, also being armed with a gun, apparently wounded his assailant in his left side, and the assailant then ran from the scene. Shortly after the victim was taken to a hospital, police officers found respondent, who was suffering from a gunshot wound to his left chest area, eight blocks away from the shooting. He was also taken to the hospital, where the victim identified him as the assailant. After an investigation, the police charged respondent with, inter alia, attempted robbery and malicious wounding. Thereafter the Commonwealth of Virginia moved in state court for an order directing respondent to undergo surgery to remove a bullet lodged under his left collarbone, asserting that the bullet would provide evidence of respondent's guilt or innocence. On the basis of expert testimony that the surgery would require an incision of only about one-half inch, could be performed under local anesthesia, and would result in "no danger on the basis that there's no general anesthesia employed," the court granted the motion, and the Virginia Supreme Court denied respondent's petition for a writ of prohibition and/or a writ of habeas corpus. Respondent then brought an action in Federal District Court to enjoin the pending operation on Fourth Amendment grounds, but the court refused to issue a preliminary injunction. Subsequently, X rays taken just before surgery was scheduled showed that the bullet was lodged substantially deeper than had been thought when the state court granted the motion to compel surgery, and the surgeon concluded that a general anesthetic would be desirable. Respondent unsuccessfully sought a rehearing in the state trial court, and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. However, respondent then returned to the Federal District Court, which, after an evidentiary hearing, enjoined the threatened surgery. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The proposed surgery would violate respondent's right to be secure in his person and the search would be "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 758-767.

(a) A compelled surgical intrusion into an individual's body for evidence implicates expectations of privacy and security of such magnitude that the intrusion may be "unreasonable" even if likely to produce evi- dence of a crime. The reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin depends on a case-by-case approach, in which the individual's interests in privacy and security are weighed against society's interests in conducting the procedure to obtain evidence for fairly determining guilt or innocence. The appropriate framework of analysis for such cases is provided in Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908, which held that a State may, over the suspect's protest, have a physician extract blood from a person suspected of drunken driving without violating the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights. Beyond the threshold requirements as to probable cause and warrants, Schmerber's inquiry considered other factors for determining "reasonableness"—including the extent to which the procedure may threaten the individual's safety or health, the extent of intrusion upon the individual's dignitary interests in personal privacy and bodily integrity, and the community's interest in fairly and accurately determining guilt or innocence. Pp. 758-763.

(b) Under the Schmerber balancing test, the lower federal courts reached the correct result here. The threats to respondent's safety posed by the surgery were the subject of sharp dispute, and there was conflict in the testimony concerning the nature and scope of the operation. Thus, the resulting uncertainty about the medical risks was properly taken into account. Moreover, the intrusion on respondent's privacy interests and bodily integrity can only be characterized as severe. Surgery without the patient's consent, performed under a general anesthetic to search for evidence of a crime, involves a virtually total divestment of the patient's ordinary control over surgical probing beneath his skin. On the other hand, the Commonwealth's assertions of compelling need to intrude into respondent's body to retrieve the bullet are not persuasive. The Commonwealth has available substantial additional evidence that respondent was the individual who accosted the victim. Pp. 763-766.

717 F.2d 888 (CA 4 1983), affirmed.

Stacy F. Garrett, III, Richmond, Va., for petitioners.

Joseph Ryland Winston, Richmond, Va., for respondent.

Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 86 S.Ct. 1826, 16 L.Ed.2d 908 (1966), held, inter alia, that a State may, over the suspect's protest, have a physician extract blood from a person suspected of drunken driving without violation of the suspect's right secured by the Fourth Amendment not to be subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures. However, Schmerber cautioned: "That we today hold that the Constitution does not forbid the States['] minor intrusions into an individual's body under stringently limited conditions in no way indicates that it permits more substantial intrusions, or intrusions under other conditions." Id., at 772, 86 S.Ct., at 1836. In this case, the Commonwealth of Virginia seeks to compel the respondent Rudolph Lee, who is suspected of attempting to commit armed robbery, to undergo a surgical procedure under a general anesthetic for removal of a bullet lodged in his chest. Petitioners allege that the bullet will provide evidence of respondent's guilt or innocence. We conclude that the procedure sought here is an example of the "more substantial intrusion" cautioned against in Schmerber, and hold that to permit the procedure would violate respondent's right to be secure in his person guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment.

I
A.

At approximately 1 a.m. on July 18, 1982, Ralph E. Watkinson was closing his shop for the night. As he was locking the door, he observed someone armed with a gun coming toward him from across the street. Watkinson was also armed and when he drew his gun, the other person told him to freeze. Watkinson then fired at the other person, who returned his fire. Watkinson was hit in the legs, while the other individual, who appeared to be wounded in his left side, ran from the scene. The police arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, and Watkinson was taken by ambulance to the emergency room of the Medical College of Virginia (MCV) Hospital.

Approximately 20 minutes later, police officers responding to another call found respondent eight blocks from where the earlier shooting occurred. Respondent was suffering from a gunshot wound to his left chest area and told the police that he had been shot when two individuals attempted to rob him. An ambulance took respondent to the MCV Hospital. Watkinson was still in the MCV emergency room and, when respondent entered that room, said "[t]hat's the man that shot me." App. 14. After an investigation, the police decided that respondent's story of having been himself the victim of a robbery was untrue and charged respondent with attempted robbery, malicious wounding, and two counts of using a firearm in the commission of a felony.

B

The Commonwealth shortly thereafter moved in state court for an order directing respondent to undergo surgery to remove an object thought to be a bullet lodged under his left collarbone. The court conducted several evidentiary hearings on the motion. At the first hearing, the Commonwealth's expert testified that the surgical procedure would take 45 minutes and would involve a three to four percent chance of temporary nerve damage, a one percent chance of permanent nerve damage, and a one-tenth of one percent chance of death. At the second hearing, the expert testified that on reexamination of respondent, he discovered that the bullet was not "back inside close to the nerves and arteries," id., at 52, as he originally had thought. Instead, he now believed the bullet to be located "just beneath the skin." Id., at 57. He testified that the surgery would require an incision of only one and one-half centimeters (slightly more than one-half inch), could be performed under local anesthesia, and would result in "no danger on the basis that there's no general anesthesia employed." Id., at 51.

The state trial judge granted the motion to compel surgery. Respondent petitioned the Virginia Supreme Court for a writ of prohibition and/or a writ of habeas corpus, both of which were denied. Respondent then brought an action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to enjoin the pending operation on Fourth Amendment grounds. The court refused to issue a preliminary injunction, holding that respondent's cause had little likelihood of success on the merits. 551 F.Supp. 247, 247-253 (1982).1

On October 18, 1982, just before the surgery was scheduled, the surgeon ordered that X rays be taken of respondent's chest. The X rays revealed that the bullet was in fact lodged two and one-half to three centimeters (approximately one inch) deep in muscular tissue in respondent's chest, substantially deeper than had been thought when the state court granted the motion to compel surgery. The surgeon now believed that a general anesthetic would be desirable for medical reasons.

Respondent moved the state trial court for a rehearing based on the new evidence. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the state trial court denied the rehearing, and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. Respondent then returned to federal court, where he moved to alter or amend the judgment previously entered against him. After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court enjoined the threatened surgery. 551 F.Supp., at 253-261 ...

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