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Rochin v. California 342 U.S. 165 (1952)

ROCHIN v. CALIFORNIA 342 U.S. 165 (1952)

To dispose of evidence, Rochin swallowed drug capsules. Officers pummeled his stomach and jumped on him in an effort to make him throw up the evidence. That failing, they rushed him to a hospital where a doctor, on police instructions, pumped an emetic solution through a tube into Rochin's stomach, forcing him to vomit the capsules. With that evidence the state convicted Rochin as a drug pusher. The Supreme Court unanimously reversed his conviction. Justice felix frankfurter, for the Court, held that the state had violated Rochin's right to due process of law. Due process, said Frankfurter, however "indefinite and vague," outlawed "conduct that shocks the conscience." State prosecutions must not, at the risk of violating due process, offend the "sense of justice" or of "fair play." Due process enjoined a respect for the "decencies of civilized conduct."

Justices hugo l. black and william o. douglas, concurring separately, repudiated Frankfurter's reasoning as excessively subjective. His "nebulous" standard of due process, they believed, allowed the Court to draw upon undefinable notions of justice or decency or fairness. They would have ruled that the state violated Rochin's Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, which the fourteenth amendment incorporated.

Leonard W. Levy

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