The basic purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by governmental officials. The Fourth Amendment thus gives concrete expression to a right of the people which is basic to a free society. As such, the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the states.
A city ordinance gave city building inspectors the right to enter any building at reasonable times in furtherance of their code enforcement duties. The occupant denied entrance to building inspectors on three separate occasions, each time demanding that they first obtain a warrant. He was prosecuted under another ordinance that made it a crime to refuse to comply with the inspectors' requests. He claimed the warrantless search requested by the building inspectors violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Did the occupant have a right to insist that the inspectors obtain a warrant to search his home?
The Court overruled its prior decision in Frank v. Maryland, 359 U.S. 360, where it permitted warrantless administrative searches. The Court held that the administrative search was not peripheral to the occupant's Fourth Amendment interests because a criminal prosecution could and did result from his refusal to submit. The Court held that probable cause would still be required for issuance of a warrant for an administrative search, but the standard was lower than for issuance of a warrant in criminal cases. The standard would be met by a reasonableness showing, in light of the reasonable goals of code enforcement.