1951 December 8

Bugs in the Bedroom: Police Place Listening Devices in Irvine’s Bedroom


Patrick Irvine was suspected of being a bookmaker. Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies entered Patrick Irvine’s home several times without a warrant to place listening devices. During the third “visit,” on this day, they placed the devices — “bugs” in street language — in his bedroom. Irvine was convicted, and he appealed on the grounds of an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Irvine v. California on February 8, 1954, the Supreme Court upheld his conviction, refusing to exclude the evidence, but with several justices expressing outrage at the intrusion into such private space.

The Supreme Court did not impose the exclusionary rule for state and local police, which would have excluded the evidence against Irvine, until Mapp v. Ohio on June 19, 1961.

Justice Robert Jackson (who nonetheless upheld the conviction) for the Court:Each of these repeated entries of petitioner’s home without a search warrant or other process was a trespass, and probably a burglary, for which any unofficial person should be, and probably would be, severely punished.”

Justice William O. Douglas, dissenting:The search and seizure conducted in this case smack of the police state, not the free America the Bill of Rights envisaged. The police and their agents first made a key to the home of a suspect. Then they bored a hole in the roof of his house. Using the key, they entered the house, installed a microphone, and attached it to a wire which ran through the hole in the roof to a nearby garage, where officers listened in relays. Twice more they used the key to enter the house in order to adjust the microphone. First they moved it into the bedroom where the suspect and his wife slept. Next, they put the microphone into the bedroom closet.”

Learn more: Stephen Schulhofer, More Essential Than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty-First Century (2012)

Learn more about Mapp: Carolyn Long, Mapp v. Ohio: Guarding Against Unreasonable Searches and Seizures (2006)

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