Fourth Amendment Does Not Cover Compelled Psychological Evaluations

Two years after Kristin Greenawalt was hired by the Indiana Department of Corrections as a research analyst, she was told that to keep her job she would have to submit to a psychological examination. The test lasted two hours and inquired into the details of her personal life. After submitting to the test, Greenawalt filed a lawsuit against the Department alleging that the examination had constituted a “search” within the scope of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The federal Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a compulsory psychological examination was not a “search” within the scope of the Fourth Amendment. The Court was clearly leery about extending the Fourth Amendment so far. The Court noted that “the implication of extending the doctrine to one involving mere questioning would be strange. In a case involving sex or some other private matter, a government trial lawyer might be required to obtain a search warrant before being allowed to conduct a cross examination – or the judge before being allowed to ask a question of the witness. Police might have to obtain search warrants or waivers before conducting routine inquiries, even of the complaining witness in a rape case, since they would be inquiring about the witnesses’ sexual behavior. The psychological test, widely used in a variety of sensitive employments, would be deemed forbidden by the Constitution if a judge thought them unreasonable.”

Though the Court rejected her lawsuit, it did not appear to be entirely unsympathetic to Greenawalt: “Our conclusion that Greenawalt has not stated a Fourth Amendment claim does not leave people in her position remediless – or indeed leave her remediless. States are free to protect privacy more comprehensively than the Fourth Amendment commands, and Greenawalt is free to continue to press her state law claims in state court, where they belong. In most states, if prison officials were to publicize highly personal information obtained from someone in Greenawalt’s position by the kind of tests of which she complains, she would have a state-law claim for invasion of her tort right of privacy. But the Fourth Amendment does not expand accordion-like to fill what may be a gap in the privacy law of a particular state.”

Greenawalt v. Indiana Department of Corrections, 397 F.3d 587 (7th Cir. 2005).

This article appears in the April 2005 issue