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Orin S. Kerr

Beverly Hills Cop is a Fourth Amendment Movie

I recently rewatched Beverly Hills Cop (1984), the Eddie Murphy movie, which came out when I was in junior high school.   It dawned on me that the movie is not just a vehicle for Eddie Murphy's comic talents.  It is that, to be clear; Murphy is fantastic in the movie. But there's a more important legal angle: Beverly Hills Cop is a Fourth Amendment movie.

There are lots of Fourth Amendment issues in the movie.  But the key scene, at the warehouse, could be an exam question.

Recall the facts.

Axel Foley (Eddie Murphy's character) is a Detroit cop on vacation who is trying to investigate his friend's murder. He is trying to get the police in Beverly Hills to investigate, but they refuse.  The Beverly Hills police chief instead orders Foley out of town, instructing Beverly Hills officer Billy Rosewood (played by Judge Reinhold) to drive Foley to the outskirts of town.

On the drive, however, Foley persuades Rosewood to ignore his orders and to bring Foley and his old friend Jenny Summers to a warehouse where Foley expects to find drugs being trafficked by Victor Maitland, the art dealer turned drug trafficker.  Summers has the key to the warehouse because she happens to work for Maitland at his art gallery, although of course she had no idea of his illegal drug activities.

Rosewood parks the car outside the warehouse. Rosewood wants to go inside the warehouse, too, but Foley tells Rosewood to stay in the car.  If Rosewood enters, Foley says, it will be an illegal search because they don't have probable cause.  I'll come get you if I find evidence, Foley tells him.  Foley wants Summers to give him the key so he can search by himself, but Summers refuses and insists on going with him.

Foley and Summers enter the warehouse with Summers' key, and they find a several wood crates that have the gallery's name on them.  According to Foley, they are crates from overseas that bypassed customs.  Foley uses a crowbar to open the crates, and they find cocaine inside.  "Go get Rosewood," Foley tells Summers.

But wait! Maitland and his evil crew are on to them.  They capture Foley and Summers in the warehouse. They take Summers away, and Maitland orders his men to kill Foley.

Meanwhile, Rosewood is watching from outside.  He has seen Maitland and his crew arrive at the warehouse.  He then sees Maitland leave minutes later, and he has Summers, who seems to be forced into Maitland's car before they drive off.  Rosewood is sufficiently worried about Foley that he breaks into the warehouse himself.  After entering, Rosewood saves Foley.

Assume Maitland somehow survives the later shooting at his estate, and that the government seeks to put on the following evidence at trial against Maitland:

(a) Foley's testimony about what happened in the warehouse,

(b) Rosewood's testimony about what he saw in the warehouse;

(c) Summers' testimony about what she saw in the warehouse; and

(d) the cocaine discovered in the warehouse.

Among the issues you might want to consider:

First, was Foley a state actor for 4th Amendment purposes when he entered the warehouse?  He was an officer outside his jurisdiction who had been told by both the Detroit and Beverly Hills police departments not to investigate.  He did so anyway for personal reasons, to bust the man who killed his friend.  Was Foley a private actor or a state actor?  Fourth Amendment state action generally requires the knowledge or acquiescence of the government.  But who is the government here: The police chiefs? Rosewood? Foley himself?

Second, was Summers a state actor for Fourth Amendment purposes?  Note that she is not just going along; she insisted on participating together with Foley and is working together with Foley.

Third, did Summers have common authority to consent to enter the warehouse?  If so, does her common authority extend to opening the crates that Foley used a crowbar to open, in which the cocaine was found?  If there was not common authority, was there apparent authority?

Fourth, did Rosewood have exigent circumstances to enter the warehouse? Seeing Summers get taken away sure seems bad, but was that the result of a police-created exigency caused by their possibly unlawful entry?  Or is this more of a Brigham City v. Stuart situation to save Foley's life?

Fifth, assuming the entry into the warehouse was unlawful and the cocaine has to be suppressed, does the scope of the exclusionary rule also go so far as to forbid testimony about what Maitland and his men said and did to Foley and Summers upon stopping them inside the warehouse?  Or does the criminal conduct by Maitland and his men break the causal chain and permit the testimony?

Extra Credit: Are any of your answers different if you apply Fourth Amendment law as it existed in 1984, when Beverly Hills Cop was released?

The post <i>Beverly Hills Cop</i> is a Fourth Amendment Movie appeared first on

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