Hudson v. Palmer

LOCATION: Bland Correctional Center

DOCKET NO.: 82-1630
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

CITATION: 468 US 517 (1984)
ARGUED: Dec 07, 1983
DECIDED: Jul 03, 1984

Deborah C. Wyatt - Argued the cause for Palmer
William G. Broaddus - Argued the cause for Hudson

Facts of the case

Russell Palmer, a prisoner in a Virginia prison, brought suit against Ted Hudson, an officer at the institution. Hudson had conducted a "shakedown" search of Palmer's locker and cell for contraband. Hudson and another officer also charged Palmer with destroying state property after they discovered a ripped pillowcase near Palmer's cell bunk. Palmer was then ordered to reimburse the State.


Did the search of Palmer's locker and cell violate the Fourth Amendment? Did prison officials deprive Hudson of his property in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment?

Media for Hudson v. Palmer

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 07, 1983 in Hudson v. Palmer

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Hudson against Palmer and the consolidated case.

Mr. Broaddus, you may proceed when you are ready.

William G. Broaddus:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The two petitions in this case bring before this Court two important constitutional issues pertaining to prison administration.

The first issue, that presented by the Petitioner, is whether a prison inmate has some reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy while in prison so that he is entitled to the protection of the Fourth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments against allegedly unreasonable searches.

The second issue, that presented by the Cross Petitioner, is whether a prison inmate whose property has been destroyed by the random unauthorized but unanticipated act of a guard has in law been deprived of property without due process when the state provides adequate post-deprivation remedies which are adequate to make the inmate whole.

These issues arose out of an incident which occurred at Bland Correctional Institution in September, 1981.

Bland is a state run penal facility which houses 450 felons.

According to the inmate's complaint the prison guard conducted a shakedown, that is, a search of his locker but the shakedown was not routine and was conducted for purposes of harassment.

He further alleged that the guard destroyed some of his property.

Although the guard denied these allegations the District Court accepted them as true for purposes of ruling upon the guard's motion for summary judgment.

The trial court concluded that the allegations of deprivation of property did not constitute a taking without due process because of this Court's reasoning in the case of Parratt v. Taylor.

The trial court also concluded that the allegations of harassment did not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.

The Court of Appeals affirmed both of those rulings.

The Court of Appeals found that the inmate had some minimal right of privacy entitled to protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Court of Appeals ruled that a guard could not search unless there was an established program or policy for random searches or in the alternative that the guard had some reasonable basis for believing that the prisoner possessed contraband.

The Petitioner submits the Court of Appeals erred with respect to this conclusion, and I would like first to address this issue.

It is clear from this Court's prior opinions that an iron curtain does not exist between the Constitution and our nation's prison.

It is equally clear, however, that prisoners suffer a substantial reduction and even loss in many rights and privileges.

In each case before the Court determines that an inmate possesses a right it carefully weighs that claim in light of the acute need of prison administration for prison security because that is the paramount need which prison administration is charged with.

Secondarily, it will weigh the claim in light of the effect upon the prison inmate.

With respect to the claim that a prison inmate possesses a right of privacy this Court is well aware from its many cases that prisons are dangerous places.

They are used to house dangerous men.

Inmates may seek to assault, to brutalize other inmates.

They may seek to assault guards.

They may seek to escape.

The introduction of drugs and weapons into this situation can only exacerbate an already dangerous place and situation.

John Paul Stevens:

General Broaddus, can I ask you a question about the scope of your submission?

William G. Broaddus:

Yes, sir.

John Paul Stevens:

As I understood your opening statement you were suggesting that the Fourth Amendment has no application to searches in the prison.

You also say that there is no protection for the prisoner against seizures in searches.