Defense of Privacy

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Background

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 12, states:

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honor and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

This right to privacy has been recognized as a defense to criminal conviction in the United States and in other jurisdictions.

United States

Traditionally, defenses to crimes were grounded in failure of proof or other specific provisions enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.

However, starting in 1965, the United States Supreme Court began to recognize certain rights that were not explicitly stated in the Constitution. One of these rights was the right to privacy, first recognized as having a Constitutional basis in Griswold v. Connecticut [1]. In Griswold, the defendant, the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, and its medical director, a licensed physician, were convicted as accessories for giving married persons information and medical advice on how to prevent conception and, following examination, prescribing a contraceptive device or material for the wife's use. A Connecticut statute makes it a crime for any person to use any drug or article to prevent conception. Appellants claimed that the accessory statute as applied violated the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed, concluding that such activity was Constitutionally protected under a right to privacy. The court explained the doctrine:

The foregoing cases suggest that specific guarantees in the Bill of Rights have penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees that help give them life and substance. See Poe v. Ullman, 367 U.S. 497, 516-522 (dissenting opinion). Various guarantees create zones of privacy. The right of association contained in the penumbra of the First Amendment is one, as we have seen. The Third Amendment in its prohibition against the quartering of soldiers "in any house" in time of peace without the consent of the owner is another facet of that privacy. The Fourth Amendment explicitly affirms the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." The Fifth Amendment in its Self-Incrimination Clause enables the citizen to create a zone of privacy which government may not force him to surrender to his detriment. The Ninth Amendment provides: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."
The Fourth and Fifth Amendments were described in Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 630 , as protection against all governmental invasions "of the sanctity of a man's home and the privacies of life." * We recently referred [381 U.S. 479, 485] in Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 656 , to the Fourth Amendment as creating a "right to privacy, no less important than any other right carefully and particularly reserved to the people." See Beaney, The Constitutional Right to Privacy, 1962 Sup. Ct. Rev. 212; Griswold, The Right to be Let Alone, 55 Nw. U. L. Rev. 216 (1960). . . .
The present case, then, concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees. And it concerns a law which, in forbidding the use of contraceptives rather than regulating their manufacture or sale, seeks to achieve its goals by means having a maximum destructive impact upon that relationship. Such a law cannot stand in light of the familiar principle, so often applied by this Court, that a "governmental purpose to control or prevent activities constitutionally subject to state regulation may not be achieved by means which sweep unnecessarily broadly and thereby invade the area of protected freedoms." NAACP v. Alabama, 377 U.S. 288, 307 . Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The [381 U.S. 479, 486] very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.
We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights - older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.

Similar reasoning was used by the Supreme Court to decriminalize abortions.[2]

In the United States


See Defenses

Notes

  1. Griswold v. Connecticut 381 U.S. 479 (1965)
  2. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973)