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Donovan v. Dewey


A federal mine inspector attempted to inspect the premises of a stone quarry operator under authority granted by federal law. The pertinent statute provided that federal mine inspectors are to inspect all mines at set intervals to insure compliance with health and safety standards and to make follow-up inspections to determine whether previously discovered violations had been corrected. Mine inspectors were authorized to inspect any mine without having to obtain a warrant. In this case, the inspection was a follow-up to one that uncovered numerous safety and health violations. The quarry operator refused to allow the inspection to be completed because the inspector did not have a search warrant.


Whether a statute can authorize the government to engage in a non-consensual inspection without a search warrant?


Yes. Under specific circumstances, such intrusions are reasonable.


The Court held that there are certain situations in which the government can engage in warrantless inspections. The Court stated “[T]he greater latitude to conduct warrantless inspections of commercial property reflects the fact that the expectation of privacy that the owner of commercial property enjoys in such property differs significantly from the sanctity accorded an individual’s home, and that this privacy interest may, in certain circumstances, be adequately protected by regulatory schemes authorizing warrantless inspections.”

Determining when an inspection warrant is required to conduct these types of searches rests on whether (1) Congress has reasonably determined that warrantless searches are necessary to further a regulatory scheme and (2) the regulatory practices are sufficiently comprehensive and defined that the commercial operator cannot help but be aware that his business will be subject to episodic inspections for explicit purposes.

The warrantless inspections here were justified because the statute (1) notified the operator that inspections will be performed on a regular basis, (2) informed the operator of what health and safety standards must be met, thus curtailing the discretion of government officials to determine what facilities to search and what violations to search for, and (3) prohibited forcible entries. Should entry to perform an inspection be denied, the government was compelled to file a civil action in federal court to obtain an injunction against future refusals


452 U.S. 594, 101 S. Ct. 2534 (1980)

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