Brendan Riley


In 1984, the Supreme Court in Hudson v. Palmer, held that prisoners have no reasonable expectation of privacy within their jail cells and are not entitled to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court’s reasoning was focused on the security needs of penal institutions and ensuring they were not compromised by an inmate’s privacy rights. While this decision definitively answered the question concerning privacy rights of convicted prisoners, it left open the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment privacy rights of pretrial detainees. Since Hudson, courts across the country have varied on the constitutional guarantee of privacy rights to pretrial detainees. Some have held that the same reasoning applied in Hudson applies to pretrial detainees. Others have determined that a pretrial detainee retains a Fourth Amendment right to privacy, although somewhat diminished, but compelling enough to challenge an unreasonable search or seizure.

It is well documented in American case law that courts have engaged in a constant struggle of weighing an individual’s right to privacy against the reasonableness of the government’s intrusion. This Note does recognize the need for institutional security to perform basic functions in a correctional facility. However, an incarcerated individual is not stripped of all rights against governmental intrusion.

This Note argues that the privacy rights of detained individuals, who have not been convicted of a crime, must be constitutionally guaranteed. The reason that many of these individuals are in detention is that they lack sufficient funds to be released on bail. The innate injustice of stripping an individual’s constitutional rights based on their economic capabilities is constitutionally offensive. As such, the Supreme Court should end the ambiguity surrounding a pretrial detainee’s right against unreasonable searches and seizures to ensure equity and certainty to the law.