267 U.S. 132 (1925), 15, Carroll v. United States

Docket Nº:No. 15
Citation:267 U.S. 132, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543
Party Name:Carroll v. United States
Case Date:March 02, 1925
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 132

267 U.S. 132 (1925)

45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543



United States

No. 15

United States Supreme Court

March 2, 1925

Argued December 4, 1923

Restored to docket for reargument January 28, 1924

Reargued March 14, 1924




1. The legislative history of 6 of the act supplemental to the National Prohibition Act, November 23, 1921, c. 134, 42 Stat. 223, which makes it a misdemeanor for any officer of the United States to search a private dwelling without a search warrant or to search any other building or property without a search warrant, maliciously and without reasonable cause, shows clearly the intent of Congress to make a distinction as to the necessity for a search warrant in the searching of private dwellings and in the searching of automobiles or other road vehicles, in the enforcement of the Prohibition Act. P. 144.

2. The Fourth Amendment denounces only such searches or seizures as are unreasonable, and it is to be construed in the light of what was deemed an unreasonable search and seizure when it was adopted, and in a manner which will conserve public interests as well as the interests and rights of individual citizens. P. 147.

3. Search without a warrant of an automobile, and seizure therein of liquor subject to seizure and destruction under the Prohibition Act, do not violate the Amendment, if made upon probable cause, i.e., upon a belief, reasonably arising out of circumstances known to the officer, that the vehicle contains such contraband liquor. P. 149.

4. Various acts of Congress are cited to show that, practically since the beginning of the Government, the Fourth Amendment has been construed as recognizing a necessary difference between a search for contraband in a store, dwelling-house, or other structure

Page 133

for the search of which a warrant may readily be obtained, and a search of a ship, wagon, automobile, or other vehicle which may be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought. P. 150.

5. Section 26, Title II, of the National Prohibition Act, provides that, when an officer "shall discover any person in the act" of transporting intoxicating liquor in any automobile, or other vehicle, in violation of law, it shall be his duty to seize the liquor and thereupon to take possession of the vehicle and arrest the person in charge of it, and that, upon conviction of such person, the court shall order the liquor destroyed, and, except for good cause shown, shall order a public sale, etc. of the other property seized.


(a) That the primary purpose is the seizure and destruction of the contraband liquor, and the provisions for forfeiture of the vehicle and arrest of the transporter are merely incidental. P. 153.

(b) Hence, the right to search an automobile for illicit liquor and to seize the liquor, if found, and thereupon to seize the vehicle also and to arrest the offender, does not depend upon the right to arrest the offender in the first instance, and therefore it is not determined by the degree of his offence -- whether a misdemeanor under § 29, Title II of the Act, because of being his first or second offence, or a felony because it is his third, and the rule allowing arrest without warrant for misdemeanor only when the offence is committed in the officer's presence, but for a felony when the officer has reasonable cause to believe that the person arrested has committed a felony, is not the test of the validity of such search and seizure. Pp. 155, 156.

(c) The seizure is legal if the officer, in stopping and searching the vehicle, has reasonable or probable cause for believing that contraband liquor is being illegally transported in it. P. 155.

(d) The language of § 26 -- when an officer shall "discover " any person in the act of transporting, etc. -- does not limit him to what he learns of the contents of a passing automobile by the use of his senses at the time. P. 158.

(e) The section thus construed is consistent with the Fourth Amendment. P. 159.

6. Probable cause held to exist where prohibition officers, while patrolling a highway much used in illegal transportation of liquor, stopped and searched an automobile upon the faith of information previously obtained by them that the car and its occupants, identified by the officers, were engaged in the illegal business of "bootlegging." P. 159.

Page 134

7. When contraband liquor, seized from an automobile and used in the conviction of those in charge of the transportation, was shown at the trial to have been taken in a search justified by probable cause, held that the Court's refusal to return he liquor on defendants' motion before trial, even if erroneous because probable cause was not then proven, was not a substantial reason for . reversing the conviction. P. 162.

8. The Court notices judicially that Grand Rapids is about 152 miles from Detroit, and that Detroit, and its neighborhood along the Detroit River, which is the international boundary, is one of the most active centers for introducing illegally into this country spirituous liquors for distribution into the interior. P. 160.


This is a writ of error to the District Court under Section 238 of the Judicial Code. The plaintiffs in error, hereafter to be called the defendants, George Carroll and John Kiro, were indicted and convicted for transporting in an automobile intoxicating spirituous liquor, to-wit: 68 quarts of so-called bonded whiskey and gin, in violation of the National Prohibition Act. The ground on which they assail the conviction is that the trial court admitted in evidence two of the 68 bottles, one of whiskey and one of gin, found by searching the automobile. It is contended that the search and seizure were in violation of the Fourth Amendment, and therefore that use of the liquor as evidence was not proper. Before the trial, a motion was made by the defendants that all the liquor seized be returned to the defendant Carroll, who owned the automobile. This motion was denied.

The search and seizure were made by Cronenwett, Scully and Thayer, federal prohibition agents, and one Peterson, a state officer, in December, 1921, as the car was going westward on the highway between Detroit and Grand Rapids at a point 16 miles outside of Grand Rapids. The facts leading to the search and seizure were as follows: on September 29th, Cronenwett and Scully were in an apartment in Grand Rapids. Three men came to that apartment, a man named Kruska and the two defendants,

Page 135

Carroll and Kiro. Cronenwett was introduced to them as one Stafford, working in the Michigan Chair Company in Grand Rapids, who wished to buy three cases of whiskey. The price was fixed at $13 a case. The three men said they had to go to the east end of Grand Rapids to get the liquor and that they would be back in half or three-quarters of an hour. They went away, and in a short time Kruska came back and said they could not get it that night, that the man who had it was not in, but that they would deliver it the next day. They had come to the apartment in an automobile known as an Oldsmobile Roadster, the number of which Cronenwett then identified, a did Scully. The proposed vendors did not return the next day, and the evidence disclosed no explanation of their failure to do so. One may surmise that it was suspicion of the real character of the proposed purchaser, whom Carroll subsequently called by his first name when arrested in December following. Cronenwett and his subordinates were engaged in patrolling the road leading from Detroit to Grand Rapids, looking for violations of the Prohibition Act. This seems to have been their regular tour of duty. On the 6th of October, Carroll and Kiro, going eastward from Grand Rapids in the same Oldsmobile Roadster, passed Cronenwett and Scully some distance out from Grand Rapids. Cronenwett called to Scully, who was taking lunch, that the Carroll boys had passed them going toward Detroit, and sought with Scully to catch up with them to see where they were going. The officers followed as far as East Lansing, half way to Detroit, but there lost trace of them. On the 15th of December, some two months later, Scully and Cronenwett, on their regular tour of duty, with Peterson, the State officer, were going from Grand Rapids to Ionia, on the road to Detroit, when Kiro and Carroll met and passed them in the same automobile, coming from the direction of Detroit to Grand Rapids. The government agents turned

Page 136

their car and followed the defendants to a point some sixteen miles east of Grand Rapids, where they stopped them and searched the car. They found behind the upholstering of the seats, the filling of which had been removed, 68 bottles. These had labels on them, part purporting to be certificates of English chemists that the contents were blended Scotch whiskeys, and the rest that the contents were Gordon gin made in London. When an expert witness was called to prove the contents, defendants admitted the nature of them to be whiskey and gin. When the defendants were arrested, Carroll said to Cronenwett, "Take the liquor and give us one more chance and I will make it right with you," and he pulled out a roll of bills, of which one was for $10. Peterson and another took the two defendants and the liquor and the car to Grand Rapids, while Cronenwett, Thayer and Scully remained on the road looking for other cars of whose coming they had information. The officers were not anticipating that the defendants would be coming through on the highway at that particular time, but when they met them there, they believed they were carrying liquor, and hence the search, seizure and arrest.

Page 143

TAFT, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE TAFT, after stating the case as above, delivered the opinion of the Court.

The constitutional and...

To continue reading