Cupp v. Murphy

LOCATION: Allegheny County District Court

DOCKET NO.: 72-212
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 412 US 291 (1973)
ARGUED: Mar 20, 1973
DECIDED: May 29, 1973

Howard R. Lonergan -
Thomas H. Denney -

Facts of the case


Media for Cupp v. Murphy

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 20, 1973 in Cupp v. Murphy

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in 72-212 Cupp against Murphy.

Mr. Denney you may proceed.

Thomas H. Denney:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

This is a federal habeas corpus case here on writ of certiorari to review a judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The petitioner is the superintendent of the Oregon State Penitentiary and he has the respondent Daniel P. Murphy in his custody.

An Oregon State Trial Court convicted Murphy of second degree murder, the second degree murder of his wife.

His conviction was affirmed by the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court denied a petition for discretionary review of that decision.

This Court denied Murphy’s petition for certiorari, Murphy then commenced this presently federal habeas corpus action, the United States District Court to the District of Oregon relying very much on the opinion of the Oregon Court of Appeals and agreeing with it in full denied habeas corpus relief and on Murphy’s appeal to the Ninth Circuit, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded ordering petitioner Cupp to release Murphy within 60 days unless the State of Oregon retries him within that time.

There’s been only one question raised in preserve throughout these proceedings and that is the legality of the seizure of certain evidence which was used in Murphy’s trial.

In the State Court Trial as part of the showing that Murphy strangled his wife while she was asleep in bed and while wearing a rayon acetate night gown.

The state introduced some scrapings that were taken from underneath Murphy’s fingernails while he was at the police station and those scrapings revealed the presence of blood, skin cells, cotton fibers and rayon and acetate fibers.

The case -- well the Oregon Court of Appeals and the US District Court and our position here can be reduced into three simple propositions basically.

The first being that as the Courts of Oregon held, the police had probable cause to either arrest or to search Murphy at the time they conducted the search that there were exigent circumstances justifying an immediate taking of the evidence from Murphy even though the police did not formally place Murphy under arrest nor did they seek to obtain a search warrant to seize this evidence from underneath Murphy’s fingernails and finally that the momentary detention while this evidence was taken was more reasonable or at least no less reasonable than the full scale formal arrest would have been or then detaining Murphy indefinitely.

Restraining him physically to the degree that would have been necessary to prevent possible loss or destruction of this evidence, for the longer time that would have been necessary to obtain a search warrant after Murphy arrived at the police station, on the issue of whether or not there was probable cost to conduct the search every court below has held that there was probable cause for the police to act but of course the question is briefed and argued here.

I think that in their brief, counsel for Murphy and counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union who are appearing here amicus curiae on Murphy’s behalf understate the evidence.

The facts of the case in this particular situation were that the police had the -- were investigating a strangulation murder.

The deceased was found in her bed in a perfectly made up room.

There was no signs of disturbance, no signs of forced entry of the house, no signs of robbery.

All of this we think tends to show that the killer was probably known to the deceased.

The Murphy’s have been separated for some time and Murphy was not living in the Murphy house at the time of the homicide but he had been and the police learned expected home that night.

The deceased was manually strangled to the observation of the homicide detectives.

There was not a formal medical report on this point for some time but the officers made their own opinion which I think is enough to go to constitute probable cause even though we of course don’t have at this point legal admissible opinion as to the cause of death.

There were scratches on the neck of the deceased which appeared to the officers to be scratches made from fingernails of the strangler.

This was later confirmed at least to be a fingernail scraping by the pathologist who examined the body.

And the son, the 18-year-old son of the Murphy’s who was the only other person in the house or known to be in the house on the night of the murder was apparently a chronic nail biter.

Now the record is not perhaps is clear on this point as it might be desired but the police do say that he bit his fingernails well back into the quick, he had no fingernails it was absolutely impossible to scrape them.

I believe that’s all the record specifically says, I conjecture from this perhaps unjustifiably, I don’t know that he is a chronic nail biter who has bit his nails for a long time.

There’s a suggestion in trying to negate the existence of probable cause in respondents brief that there is no evidence in the record as to when this nail biting occurred.

My inference from my reading of the record simply as it this was a chronically reoccurring condition.

In any rate, they also learned, the police also learned from the son Patrick Murphy that Murphy was expected home that evening.