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CAMARA V. MUNICIPAL COURT, 387 U. S. 523 (1967)

U.S. Supreme Court

Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523 (1967)

Camara v. Municipal Court of the City and County of San Francisco

No. 92

Argued February 15, 1967

Decided June 5, 1967

387 U.S. 523


Appellant was charged with violating the San Francisco Housing Code for refusing, after three efforts by city housing inspectors to secure his consent, to allow a warrantless inspection of the ground-floor quarters which he leased and residential use of which allegedly violated the apartment building's occupancy permit. Claiming the inspection ordinance unconstitutional for failure to require a warrant for inspections, appellant while awaiting trial, sued in a State Superior Court for a writ of prohibition, which the court denied. Relying on Frank v. Maryland, 359 U. S. 360, and similar cases, the District Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the ordinance did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The State Supreme Court denied a petition for hearing.


1. The Fourth Amendment bars prosecution of a person who has refused to permit a warrantless code enforcement inspection of his personal residence. Frank v. Maryland, supra, pro tanto overruled. Pp. 387 U. S. 528-534.

(a) The basic purpose of the Fourth Amendment, which is enforceable against the States through the Fourteenth, through its prohibition of "unreasonable" searches and seizures is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials. P. 387 U. S. 528.

(b) With certain carefully defined exceptions, an unconsented warrantless search of private property is "unreasonable." Pp. 387 U. S. 528-529.

(c) Contrary to the assumption of Frank v. Maryland, supra, Fourth Amendment interests are not merely "peripheral" where municipal fire, health, and housing inspection programs are involved whose purpose is to determine the existence of physical conditions not complying with local ordinances. Those programs, moreover, are enforceable by criminal process, as is refusal to allow an inspection. Pp. 387 U. S. 529-531.

(d) Warrantless administrative searches cannot be justified on the grounds that they make minimal demands on occupants;

Page 387 U. S. 524

that warrant in such cases are unfeasible; or that area inspection programs could not function under reasonable search warrant requirements. Pp. 387 U. S. 531-533.

2. Probable cause upon the basis of which warrants are to be issued for area code enforcement inspections is not dependent on the inspector's belief that a particular dwelling violates the code, but on the reasonableness of the enforcement agency's appraisal of conditions in the area as a whole. The standards to guide the magistrate in the issuance of such search warrants will necessarily vary with the municipal program being enforced. Pp. 387 U. S. 534-539.

3. Search warrants which are required in nonemergency situations should normally be sought only after entry is refused. Pp. 387 U. S. 539-540.

4. In the nonemergency situation here, appellant had a right to insist that the inspectors obtain a search warrant. P. 387 U. S. 540.

237 Cal.App.2d 128, 46 Cal.Rptr. 585, vacated and remanded.

Page 387 U. S. 525

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