Cupp v. Murphy

Cupp v. Murphy, 412 U.S. 291 (1973), was a United States Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld a murder conviction notwithstanding a challenge that the evidence upon which guilt was based was obtained in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The court held that in view of the station-house detention upon probable cause, the very limited intrusion of scraping the defendant’s fingernails for blood and other material, undertaken to preserve highly evanescent evidence, did not violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

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United States Supreme Court case
Cupp v. Murphy

Argued March 20, 1973
Decided May 29, 1973
Full case name Cupp, Penitentiary Superintendent v. Daniel Murphy
Citations 412 U.S.291 (more)

93 S. Ct. 2000; 36 L. Ed. 2d 900; 1973 U.S. LEXIS 63
In view of the station house detention upon probable cause, the very limited intrusion undertaken to preserve highly evanescent evidence was not violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William O. Douglas · William J. Brennan Jr.
Potter Stewart · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
Case opinions
Majority Stewart, joined by Burger, White, Marshall, Blackmun, Powell, Rehnquist
Concurrence White
Concurrence Marshall
Concurrence Blackmun, joined by Burger
Concurrence Powell, joined by Burger, Rehnquist
Dissent Douglas
Dissent Brennan

Justice Stewart wrote for the majority. Based on this decision, it is permissible for police officers to conduct a limited search on a defendant when they believe that the defendant is likely to destroy evidence, provided that the search is limited to vindicating the purpose of preserving evidence.

. . . Cupp v. Murphy . . .

Doris Murphy died of strangulation in her home in the city of Portland, Oregon. Investigators found abrasions and lacerations on her throat. There was no sign of a break-in or robbery. Upon receiving word of his ex-wife’s murder, Daniel Murphy (then living with his new wife) promptly telephoned the Portland police and voluntarily came into Portland for questioning.

Shortly after arrival at the station house where he was represented by counsel, the investigating police noticed a dark spot on the respondent’s finger. Suspecting that the spot might be dried blood and knowing that evidence of strangulation is often found under the assailant’s fingernails, the police asked Murphy if they could take a sample of scrapings from his fingernails.[1] He refused. Under protest and without a warrant, the police proceeded to take the samples, which turned out to contain traces of skin and blood cells, and fabric from the victim’s nightgown. This incriminating evidence was admitted at the trial.

Daniel Murphy was convicted by a jury in an Oregon court of the second-degree murder of his wife.

The procedural history of the case is rather complex. At trial, Murphy objected to the use of the fingernail evidence against him, arguing the evidence was obtained in violation of his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court denied Murphy’s motion, and he was convicted. The Oregon Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction.

Having exhausted his rights on direct appeal, Murphy sought a writ of habeas corpus from the Federal District Court in Oregon. The District Court denied the writ without issuing an opinion. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the District Court, explaining “that there were no such exigent circumstances existing at the time of the search which would require that it immediately be conducted without the procurement of a warrant….” See Murphy v. Cupp, 461 F.2d 1006, 1007 (9th Cir. 1972). [citation needed]

. . . Cupp v. Murphy . . .

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. . . Cupp v. Murphy . . .

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