1954 February 8

No Police Eavesdropping in Your Bedroom!


Patrick Irvine was suspected by police of placing bets on horse racing and serving as a bookmaker, in violation of California State law. On four separate occasions, police officers entered Patrick Irvine’s Long Beach home and placed listening devices. On the third occasion, they placed a microphone in his bedroom. The Supreme Court, in Irvine v. California, decided on this day, angrily held that “this invasion of privacy is more shocking, more offensive, than the one involved” in Wolf v. Colorado (a search-and-seizure case decided on June 27, 1949).

In a secret but shocking response, Attorney General Herbert Brownell, on May 20, 1954, responded to the decision by giving FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover advice on how he could evade the ruling and continue to use wiretaps.

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. Science has perfected amplifying and recording devices to become frightening instruments of surveillance and invasion of privacy, whether by the policeman, the blackmailer, or the busybody. That officers of the law would break and enter a home, secrete such a device, even in a bedroom, and listen to the conversation of the occupants for over a month would be almost incredible if it were not admitted.”

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

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