399 U.S. 42 (1970), 830, Chambers v. Maroney

Docket Nº:No. 830
Citation:399 U.S. 42, 90 S.Ct. 1975, 26 L.Ed.2d 419
Party Name:Chambers v. Maroney
Case Date:June 22, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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399 U.S. 42 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1975, 26 L.Ed.2d 419

Chambers

v.

Maroney

No. 830

United States Supreme Court

June 22, 1970

Argued April 27, 1970

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner was one of four men arrested after the auto in which they were riding was stopped by police shortly after an armed robbery of a service station. The arrests resulted from information supplied by the service station attendant and bystanders. The car was driven to a police station, where a search disclosed two revolvers, one loaded with dumdum bullets, and cards bearing the name of an attendant at another service station who had been robbed at gunpoint a week earlier. In a warrant-authorized search of petitioner's home the next day, police found and seized ammunition, including dumdum bullets similar to those found in one of the guns in the car. At his first trial, which ended in a mistrial, petitioner was represented by a Legal Aid Society attorney. Another Legal Aid Society attorney, who represented him at the second trial, did not confer with petitioner until a few minutes before that trial began. The materials taken from the car and the bullets seized from petitioner's home were introduced in evidence, and petitioner was convicted of robbery of both service stations. Petitioner did not take a direct appeal, but sought, unsuccessfully, a writ of habeas corpus in the Pennsylvania courts and in the federal courts, challenging the admissibility of the materials taken from the car and the ammunition seized in his home, and claiming that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. The Court of Appeals dealt with the claim that the attorney's lack of preparation resulted in the failure to exclude the guns and ammunition by finding harmless error in the admission of the bullets and ruling that the materials seized from the car were admissible in evidence, and concluded that the claim of prejudice from substitution of counsel was without substantial basis.

Held:

1. The warrantless search of the automobile was valid, and the materials seized therefrom were properly introduced in evidence. Pp. 46-52.

(a) The search, made at the police station some time after the arrest, cannot be justified as incident to the arrest. Pp. 46-47.

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(b) Just as there was probable cause to arrest the occupants of the car, there was probable cause to search the car for guns and stolen money. Pp. 47-48.

(c) If there is probable cause, an automobile, because of its mobility, may be searched without a warrant in circumstances that would not justify a warrantless search of a house or office. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132. Pp. 48-51.

(d) Given probable cause, there is no difference under the Fourth Amendment between (1) seizing and holding a car before presenting the issue of probable cause to a magistrate, and (2) carrying out an immediate warrantless search. Pp. 51-52.

2. The findings of the District Court and the Court of Appeals that, if there was error in admitting in evidence the ammunition seized from petitioner's house, it was harmless error beyond a reasonable doubt, are affirmed on the basis of the Court's review of the record. Pp. 52-53.

3. Based on a careful examination of the state court record, the Court of Appeals' judgment denying a hearing a to the adequacy of representation by counsel, is not disturbed. Pp. 53-54.

408 F.2d 1186, affirmed.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal question in this case concerns the admissibility of evidence seized from an automobile, in which petitioner was riding at the time of his arrest, after the automobile was taken to a police station and was there thoroughly searched without a warrant. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found no violation of petitioner's Fourth Amendment rights. We affirm.

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I

During the night of May 20, 1963, a Gulf service station in North Braddock, Pennsylvania, was robbed by two men, each of whom carried and displayed a gun. The robbers took the currency from the cash register; the service station attendant, one Stephen Kovacich, was directed to place the coins in his right-hand glove, which was then taken by the robbers. Two teenagers, who had earlier noticed a blue compact station wagon circling the block in the vicinity of the Gulf station, then saw the station wagon speed away from a parking lot close to the Gulf station. About the same time, they learned that the Gulf station had been robbed. They reported to police, who arrived immediately, that four men were in the station wagon and one was wearing a green sweater. Kovacich told the police that one of the men who robbed him was wearing a green sweater and the other was wearing a trench coat. A description of the car and the two robbers was broadcast over the police radio. Within an hour, a light blue compact station wagon answering the description and carrying four men was stopped by the police about two miles from the Gulf station. Petitioner was one of the men in the station wagon. He was wearing a green sweater, and there was a trench coat in the car. The occupants were arrested, and the car was driven to the police station. In the course of a thorough search of the car at the station, the police found concealed in a compartment under the dashboard two .38-caliber revolvers (one loaded with dumdum bullets), a right-hand glove containing small change, and certain cards bearing the name of Raymond Havicon, the attendant at a Boron service station in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, who had been robbed at gunpoint on May 13, 1963. In the course of a warrant-authorized search of petitioner's home the day after petitioner's arrest, police found and

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seized certain .38-caliber ammunition, including some dumdum bullets similar to those found in one of the guns taken from the station wagon.

[90 S.Ct. 1978] Petitioner was indicted for both robberies.1 His first trial ended in a mistrial, but he was convicted of both robberies at the second trial. Both Kovacich and Havicon identified petitioner as one of the robbers.2 The materials taken from the station wagon were introduced into evidence, Kovacich identifying his glove and Havicon the cards taken in the May 13 robbery. The bullets seized at petitioner's house were also introduced over objections of petitioner's counsel.3 Petitioner was sentenced to a term of four to eight years' imprisonment for the May 13 robbery and to a term of two to seven years' imprisonment for the May 20 robbery, the sentences to run consecutively.4 Petitioner did not take a direct appeal from these convictions. In 1965, petitioner sought a writ of habeas corpus in the state court, which denied the writ after a brief evidentiary hearing; the denial of

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the writ was affirmed on appeal in the Pennsylvania appellate courts. Habeas corpus proceedings were then commenced in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. An order to show cause was issued. Based on the State's response and the state court record, the petition for habeas corpus was denied without a hearing. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed, 408 F.2d 1186, and we granted certiorari, 396 U.S. 900 (1969).5

II

We pass quickly the claim that the search of the automobile was the fruit of an unlawful arrest. Both the courts below thought the arresting officers [90 S.Ct. 1979] had probable cause to make the arrest. We agree. Having talked to the teen-age observers and to the victim Kovacich, the police had ample cause to stop a light blue compact station wagon carrying four men and to arrest the occupants, one of whom was wearing a green sweater

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and one of whom had a trench coat with him in the car.6

Even so, the search that produced the incriminating evidence was made at the police station some time after the arrest, and cannot be justified as a search incident to an arrest:

Once an accused is under arrest and in custody, then a search made at another place, without a warrant, is simply not incident to the arrest.

Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, 367 (1964). Dyke v. Taylor Implement Mfg. Co., 391 U.S. 216 (1968), is to the same effect; the reasons that have been thought sufficient to justify warrantless searches carried out in connection with an. arrest no longer obtain when the accused is safely in custody at the station house.

There are, however, alternative grounds arguably justifying the search of the car in this case. In Preston, supra, the arrest was for vagrancy; it was apparent that the officers had no cause to believe that evidence of crime was concealed in the auto. In Dyke, supra, the Court expressly rejected the suggestion that there was probable cause to search the car, 391 U.S. at 221-222. Here, the situation is different, for the police had probable cause to believe that the robbers, carrying guns and the fruits of the crime, had fled the scene in a light blue compact station wagon which would be carrying four men, one wearing a green sweater and another wearing a trench coat. As the state courts correctly held, there was probable cause to arrest the occupants of the station wagon that the officers stopped; just as obviously was

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there probable cause to search the car for guns and stolen money.

In terms of the circumstances justifying a warrantless search, the Court has long distinguished between an automobile and a home or office. In Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925), the issue was the admissibility in evidence of contraband liquor seized in a warrantless search of a car on the highway. After surveying the law from the time of the adoption of the Fourth...

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