Katz Has Only One Step: The Irrelevance of Subjective Expectations

Orin S. Kerr

George Washington University - Law School

June 11, 2014

University of Chicago Law Review, Forthcoming

This Article argues that the “subjective expectation of privacy” test is a phantom doctrine. The test exists on paper but has no impact on case outcomes. An empirical study of cases decided in 2012 indicates that majority of judicial opinions applying Katz do not even mention the subjective expectations test; opinions that mention the test usually do not apply it; and when courts apply it, the test makes no difference to the results.

The subjective test acts as a phantom doctrine because of an overlooked doctrinal shift. A close reading of Justice Harlan’s Katz concurrence suggests that it was originally intended to restate the holdings of the Supreme Court’s caselaw on invited exposure. Under those cases, an individual waived Fourth Amendment rights by inviting others to observe their protected Fourth Amendment spaces. In later cases, however, the Supreme Court misunderstood this original design and recast those holdings as part of the objective prong of the test instead of the subjective test. This doctrinal shift quietly eliminated the role of the subjective test. The Supreme Court should abolish the subjective expectations test to clarify and simplify Fourth Amendment law.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, Katz, expectation of privacy

JEL Classification: K14, K42

Accepted Paper Series

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Date posted: June 13, 2014  

Suggested Citation

Kerr, Orin S., Katz Has Only One Step: The Irrelevance of Subjective Expectations (June 11, 2014). University of Chicago Law Review, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2448617

Contact Information

Orin S. Kerr (Contact Author)
George Washington University - Law School ( email )
2000 H Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-4775 (Phone)
202-994-9817 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.gwu.edu/faculty/profile.asp?ID=3568
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