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See v. City of Seattle

Facts

The defendant refused to allow a city representative to enter and inspect the defendant’s locked commercial warehouse without a warrant and without probable cause to believe that a violation of any municipal ordinance existed. The inspection was part of a routine, periodic city-wide canvass to obtain compliance with the fire code. After the defendant refused the inspector access, he was arrested.Whether a search warrant is required to conduct inspections of municipal fire, health, and housing inspection?

Issue

Whether a search warrant is required to conduct inspections of municipal fire, health, and housing inspection?

Held

No. Legitimate government inspections are an exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, though an inspection warrant may be required.

Discussion

The search of private commercial property, as well as the search of private houses, is presumptively unreasonable if conducted without a warrant. An administrative agency’s demand for access to commercial premises for inspection under a municipal fire, health, or housing inspection program is measured against a flexible standard of reasonableness. However, administrative entry, without consent, into areas not open to the public, may only be compelled with an inspection warrant.

Business premises may reasonably be inspected in many more situations than private homes. Any constitutional challenge to the reasonableness of inspection of business premises, such as for licensing purposes, can only be resolved on a case-by-case basis under the Fourth Amendment. While a search warrant is not required, the government must obtain an inspection warrant or consent to conduct the inspection.

Citation

387 U.S. 541, 87 S. Ct. 1737 (1967)

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