Please summarize the case of Hudson v Palmer (1984). What was the main decision of this case in regards to 4th Amendment privileges? Do you agree with the Supreme Court’s decision? Why or Why not?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In this case, Russel Palmer was a prisoner in the state of Virginia.  Ted Hudson was a guard at the prison where Palmer was incarcerated.  Hudson conducted a search of Palmer’s cell that was outside of regular searches and, Palmer said, was meant only to harass him.  Hudson found a torn pillow case and Palmer was charged with destruction of state property and forced to reimburse the state.  He was also reprimanded.  Palmer sued, saying that the search was baseless and that it, therefore, violated his 4th Amendment right against unreasonable search or seizure.

In this case, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court sided with Hudson.  They found that prisoners have a very limited expectation of privacy.  They found that the state has a compelling interest in maintaining order in correctional facilities.  If the state had to have probable cause for all its searches of prisoners, it would be very difficult to maintain order.

My own view is that the Supreme Court made the right decision.  It is surely impossible to write rules that will prevent all prison guards from ever using their authority to abuse prisoners (which Hudson allegedly did when he allegedly destroyed some of Palmer’s property).  If we try to force prisons to write such rules, we end up with a situation where there is too much “red tape” involved in trying to search a prisoner or his/her cell.  This would make it too hard for guards to maintain order in prisons.  I would say that prisoners have to assume that they have very limited expectations of privacy when they are incarcerated and that essentially no search or seizure is unconstitutional.  

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