Winston v. Lee

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Winston v. Lee
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 31, 1984
Decided March 20, 1985
Full case name Andrew J. Winston, Sheriff and Aubrey M. Davis, Jr. v. Rudolph Lee, Jr.
Citations 470 U.S. 753 (more)
105 S.Ct. 1611; 84 L. Ed. 2d 662; 1985 U.S. LEXIS 76
Prior history Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
A compelled surgical intrusion into an individual's body for evidence implicates expectations of privacy and security of such magnitude that the intrusion would be "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
Majority Brennan, joined by Burger, White, Marshall, Powell, Stevens, O'Connor
Concurrence Burger
Concurrence Blackmun, Rehnquist (in the judgment)
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

Winston v. Lee, 470 U.S. 753 (1985), was a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that a compelled surgical intrusion into an individual's body for evidence implicates expectations of privacy and security of such magnitude that the intrusion would be "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment, even if likely to produce evidence of a crime.

The reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin depends on a case-by-case approach, in which the individual's interests in privacy and security are weighed against society's interests in conducting the procedure to obtain evidence for fairly determining guilt or innocence. The appropriate framework of analysis for such cases is provided in Schmerber v. California (1966), which held that a State may, over the suspect's protest, have a physician extract blood from a person suspected of drunken driving without violating the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights.


A shopkeeper was wounded by gunshot during an attempted robbery but, also being armed with a gun, apparently wounded his assailant in his left side, and the assailant then ran from the scene. Shortly after the victim was taken to a hospital, police officers found Rudolph Lee, who was suffering from a gunshot wound to his left chest area, eight blocks away from the shooting. He was also taken to the hospital, where the victim identified him as the assailant.

After an investigation, the police charged Lee with, inter alia, attempted robbery and malicious wounding. Thereafter, the Commonwealth of Virginia moved in state court for an order directing Lee to undergo surgery to remove a bullet lodged under his left collarbone, asserting that the bullet would provide evidence of Lee's guilt or innocence. On the basis of expert testimony that the surgery would require an incision of only about one-half inch, could be performed under local anesthesia, and would result in "no danger on the basis that there's no general anesthesia employed," the court granted the motion, and the Virginia Supreme Court denied Lee's petition for a writ of prohibition and/or a writ of habeas corpus.

Respondent then brought an action in Federal District Court to enjoin the pending operation on Fourth Amendment grounds, but the court refused to issue a preliminary injunction. Subsequently, X-rays taken just before surgery was scheduled to begin showed that the bullet was lodged substantially deeper than had been thought when the state court granted the motion to compel surgery, and the surgeon concluded that a general anesthetic would be desirable. Lee unsuccessfully sought a rehearing in the state trial court, and the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed. However, Lee then returned to the Federal District Court, which, after an evidentiary hearing, enjoined the threatened surgery. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Gitles, Jay A. (1985). "Reasonableness of Surgical Intrusions—Fourth Amendment". Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. 76 (4): 972–985. doi:10.2307/1143496. ISSN 0091-4169. JSTOR 1143496. 
  • Rogers, M. G. (1987). "Bodily Intrusion in Search of Evidence: A Study in Fourth Amendment Decisionmaking". Indiana Law Journal. 62 (4): 1181–1207. ISSN 0019-6665. 
  • Sarnacki, David C. (1984). "Analyzing the Reasonableness of Bodily Intrusions". Marquette Law Review. 68 (1): 130–153. ISSN 0025-3987. 
  • Tolley, Edward D.; Hull, N. E. H. (1985). "Court Ordered Surgery to Retrieve Evidence in Georgia in Light of the United States Supreme Court Decision in Winston v. Lee". Mercer Law Review. 37: 1005. ISSN 0025-987X. 

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