U.S. Supreme Court Decisions in Fourth Amendment Cases (1961–2009)

Published date01 December 2011
Date01 December 2011
Subject MatterArticles
U.S. Supreme Court Decisions
in Fourth Amendment Cases
(1961–2009): A Test of the
Legal Subculture, Democratic
Subculture, Negotiation/
Synthesis, Resource Capability,
and Social Background
Kevin Buckler
, Mario Davila
, and Steve Wilson
This study explores the capacity of several different theoretical perspectives to account for variation
in U.S. Supreme Court Fourth Amendment decisions (whether the case outcome favored the
government or the individual). The study developed measures of Richardson and Vines and Crow
and Gertz commentary on legal subculture and democratic subculture concerns of the judiciary
as well as negotiation/synthesis of these concerns. The study also developed and tested measures
of the resource capability thesis of Galanter and the recent work of George applying social
background theory to the behavior of U.S. Supreme Court justices. The findings reveal support
for each of these theoretical perspectives. Implications are discussed.
fourth amendment, legal empiricism, appellate courts, U.S. Supreme Court, legal subculture,
democratic subculture, negotiation/synthesis, resource capability, social background
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable
searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, sup-
ported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or
things to be seized.
Text of the Fourth Amendment
Department of Criminal Justice, University of Texas at Brownsville, TX, USA
Corresponding Author:
Kevin Buckler, Department of Criminal Justice, University of Texas at Brownsville, 80 Fort Brown, Brownsville, TX 78521,
Email: Kevin.buckler@utb.edu
Criminal Justice Review
36(4) 393-413
ª2011 Georgia State University
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/0734016811419652
The concept of legal empiricism generally has involved research in the areas of law and courts
where the research ‘‘uses statistical techniques and analyses’’ and the study ‘‘employs data (includ-
ing systematically coded judicial opinions) that facilitate descriptions of or inferences to a larger
sample or population as well as replication by other scholars.’’ (Heise, 2002, pp. 819–820). Scholars
have used legal empirical methods to better understand criminal court processes. While most of the
empirical literature on criminal courts that is grounded in legal empiricism has focused attention on
lower (trial and pretrial) court decision making (partial list: Cauffman et al., 2007; Crow & Gertz,
2008; Fishel, Gabbidon, & Hummer, 2007; Franklin & Fearn, 2008; Gabbidon, Marzette, & Peter-
son, 2007; Johnson, Ulmer, & Kramer, 2008; Sevigny, 2009; Williams, Demuth, & Holcomb, 2007),
there has also been some published literature on appellate decision making (Chilton & Woods, 2006;
Emmert, 1991; Gabbidon, Kowal, Jordan, Roberts, & Vincenzi, 2008; Lanier & Miller, 2000;
Neubauer, 1985, 1991, 1992; Phillips & Grattet, 2000; Radelet & Vandiver, 1983; Segal, 1984;
Smith, 2003; Williams, 1991, 1994, 1995a, 1995b). The scant empirical attention to understanding
appellate court processing of criminal justice cases is quite problematic. Appellate courts establish
important policy parameters that lower courts, police, and correctional officials are legally bound
to follow.
This study addresses this gap in research by providing a multivariate analysis of case out-
comes in the 253 Fourth Amendment cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court since the
1961 landmark decision in Mapp v. Ohio (6 L. Ed. 2d 1081, 1968). Most scholarly work on
issues pertaining to the Fourth Amendment have taken the form of law review articles (see, for
instance, Berger, 2003; Bloss, 1998; Bradley, 1993; Call, 2000; Hughes, 2001, 2003, 2006;
McCoy, 1996; Misner, 1991; Murphy & Wilds, 2001; Simmons, 2007; Vaughn & del Carmen,
1997; Williams & Arrigo, 1999; Worrall, 2000, 2001; Yeager, 1993). Only three prior studies
have used empirical methods to explore court behavior as it relates to the Fourth Amendment.
In his seminal empirically based study, Segal (1984) conducted a multivariate analysis of
Supreme Court decisions on the Fourth Amendment cases from 1962 to 1981. Segal concluded
that despite popular and scholarly sentiment that U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the Fourth
Amendment were ‘‘a mess’’ with little to no rational patterning of the outcomes, the case deci-
sions were ‘‘much more ordered than had commonly been believed’’ (p. 891). Segal discovered
that legal variables relating to the Court’s assessment of reasonableness of the search were impor-
tant predictors of the Court’s decisions. Segal’s study also reported that the U.S. Supreme Court
was more likely to favor the government in cases where the U.S. Government was a party to the
litigation. In a subsequent study of U.S. Supreme Court Fourth Amendment cases, Smith (2003)
provided a descriptive empirical analysis of criminal cases decided by the Rehnquist Court and
found that the Court, contrary to popular perception, had delivered many opinions supportive of
individual rights. Finally, Chilton and Woods (2006) used content analysis methods to empiri-
cally examine linguistic patterns in the decisions of the Rehnquist Court from 1986 to 1994. They
argued that the linguistic patterns used in the decisions conformed to a ‘‘moral justification
model’’ whereby the Court assessed the moral virtue of ‘‘druggie’’ defendants in its opinions.
The current study utilizes a similar approach to the seminal study of Segal but for a larger time
span. The current analysis is important and advances the extant literature on U.S. Supreme Court
decision making in a variety of ways. The study presents a more precise theoretical framework for
understanding U.S. Supreme Court decision making in these cases. In this regard, the current
study utilizes the theoretical work of Richardson and Vines (1970), Crow and Gertz (2008), and
Savelsberg (1992) to understand the role of different variables in explaining U.S. Supreme Court
case outcomes. It is suggested that U.S. Supreme Court decisions favoring the government can be
understood in the context of a negotiation and synthesizing process whereby the Court weighs com-
peting demands of a legalistic subculture versus a democratic subculture, as well as tensions between
formal rationality and substantive rationality.
394 Criminal Justice Review 36(4)

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT