1952 January 2

It “Shocks the Conscience:” Police Forcibly Pump Suspect’s Stomach


Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies entered Antonio Rochin’s residence without a warrant in early July 1949. Rochin swallowed some pills, and police took him to the emergency room where he was forcibly induced to vomit them up. The pills were morphine, and were later used to convict him. The Supreme Court, in Rochin v. California, unanimously overturned his conviction on this day, ruling that the methods used to obtain the evidence “shocks the conscience” and violated the due process clause.

The Court: ” . . . we are compelled to conclude that the proceedings by which this conviction was obtained do more than offend some fastidious squeamishness or private sentimentalism about combatting crime too energetically. This is conduct that shocks the conscience. Illegally breaking into the privacy of the petitioner, the struggle to open his mouth and remove what was there, the forcible extraction of his stomach’s contents – this course of proceeding by agents of government to obtain evidence is bound to offend even hardened sensibilities. They are methods too close to the rack and the screw to permit of constitutional differentiation.” 

Learn more about the Rochin case: http://www.oyez.org/cases/1950-1959/1951/1951_83

Learn more about Rochin and the history of police misconduct: https://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/aclu-history-fighting-police-misconduct

Read about the history of the police, criminal justice, and the Supreme Court: Samuel Walker, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice, 2nd ed. (1998)

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