Hudson and Samson: The Roberts Court Confronts Privacy, Dignity, and the Fourth Amendment


This article critically analyzes Samson v. California and Hudson v. Michigan, which were the Roberts Court's first major Fourth Amendment decisions. In Samson, the Court upheld a California law allowing government officials to search parolees without any suspicion of wrongdoing. In Hudson, to the surprise of almost every observer, the Court held that knock-and-announce violations do not carry with them a remedy of exclusion. What was most notable about Hudson was not only that it rejected what every state and every federal court, save one, believed to be the proper remedy for knock-and-announce violations, but that it called into question the Court's continued support of a general Fourth Amendment exclusionary principle.

In Part One, I examine the Court's decision in Samson, tying it to a long line of cases dating back to the Burger Court that have segregated entire classes of individuals (and individuals in particular physical locations) from meaningful Fourth Amendment protection. While few would argue that Samson is a particularly groundbreaking decision, it is nonetheless notable as being the Roberts Court's first major rights-limiting decision under the Fourth Amendment. I argue the majority's reasoning is unconvincing, in that it depends on a misconceived notion of the criminal “propensity” of parolees that skews the Fourth Amendment “reasonableness” analysis. I argue that the Court's abandonment of “special needs” doctrine in its decision provides evidence that the majority recognized the tenuous relationship between suspicionless searches and the penological and rehabilitative goals of parole.

In Part Two, I examine the Court's opening salvo against the exclusionary rule in Hudson. I critique Justice Scalia's endorsement of alternative remedies to knock-and-announce violations (specifically his reliance on 42 U.S.C. §1983), arguing that these proposed remedies are inadequate to deter future misconduct and make whole the victims of the illegal behavior. Next, I assert that Hudson was the first shot across the bow in what promises to be a long campaign by the “conservative” block of the Court to undermine, and ultimately overrule, the exclusionary rule as a remedy for Fourth Amendment violations.

In Part Three, I argue that the newly-composed Court's decisions in these cases show a clear preference for the government's interests in law enforcement, to the determinant of individuals' legitimate expectations of privacy, dignity, and autonomy. Both Samson and Hudson offer tantalizing clues as to the new Roberts Court's general theory of the balance of power between the state and the individual in the Fourth Amendment context; a theory which promises to carry over into the “new generation” of Fourth Amendment cases soon to come before the Court.


Constitutional Law | Criminal Law | Criminal Procedure | Evidence

Date of this Version

February 2007