Winston v. Lee

Winston v. Lee Case Brief

United States Supreme Court
470 U.S. 753 (1985)

ISSUE: Is it an unreasonable search for a state to require D to undergo an operation to remove a bullet from his chest to be used against him if the state already has substantial evidence to use against him at trial:
  • Watkinson was closing his shop when he observed D approaching from across the street with a gun
  • Watkinson drew his own gun and shot D who shot back; both were injured
  • After taking Watkinson to the hospital, the police responded to a call and found D in need of medical attention
  • Upon taking D to the hospital, D concocted a story that he himself was robbed and identified Watkinson at the hospital as his assailant
  • State requested an order compelling D to undergo an operation to remove the bullet from his chest
  • Trial judge granted motion to compel the surgery; VA Sup. Ct. denied writ or prohibition and/or habeas corpus
  • D brought suit in a Dist. Ct., which refused a preliminary injunction
  • Surgeon found the bullet was deeper than expected, and the Dist. Ct. enjoined the surgery; Ct. App. affirmed
  • Balancing: Reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin depend on a case-by-case balancing of the individual's interest with that of society
    • State had PC for the search
    • D's interest: Strong interest in not undergoing to such a serious and potentially life-threatening procedure
    • State's interest: Weak because it already had substantial evidence to put on a trial against D
  • Unreasonable: Under these circumstances, the state failed to demonstrate that it would be "reasonable" to search for evidence of this crime by means of the contemplated surgery
  • Higher standard: The 4th Amdt.'s command that searches be "reasonable" requires that when the state seeks to intrude upon an area in which society recognizes a significantly heightened privacy interest, a more substantial justification is required to make the search "reasonable"
  • Essentially, Winston stands for the proposition that there can be no compelled surgery to remove evidence. However, the Court has not completely closed that door, as it requires a "more substantial justification" than normal.


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