417 U.S. 583 (1974), 72-1603, Cardwell v. Lewis

Docket Nº:No. 72-1603
Citation:417 U.S. 583, 94 S.Ct. 2464, 41 L.Ed.2d 325
Party Name:Cardwell v. Lewis
Case Date:June 17, 1974
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 583

417 U.S. 583 (1974)

94 S.Ct. 2464, 41 L.Ed.2d 325




No. 72-1603

United States Supreme Court

June 17, 1974

Argued March 18, 1974




On July 24, 1967, law enforcement officers interviewed respondent in connection with a murder that had occurred five days before and viewed his automobile, which was thought to have been used in the commission of the crime. On October 10, in response to a previous request, respondent appeared at 10 a.m. for questioning at the office of the investigating authorities, having left his [94 S.Ct. 2466] car at a nearby public commercial parking lot. Though the police had secured a warrant for respondent's arrest at 8 a.m., respondent was not arrested until late in the afternoon, after which his car was towed to a police impoundment lot, where a warrantless examination the next day of the outside of the car revealed that a tire matched the cast of a tire impression made at the crime scene and that paint samples taken from respondent's car were not different from foreign paint on the fender of the victim's car. Respondent was tried and convicted of the murder, and his conviction was affirmed on appeal. In a subsequent habeas corpus proceeding, the District Court concluded that the seizure and examination of respondent's car violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and that the evidence obtained therefrom should have been excluded at the trial. The Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding that the scraping of paint from the car's exterior was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment; that the search, which was not incident to respondent's arrest, was unconsented; and that the car's seizure could not be justified on the ground that the car was an instrumentality of the crime in plain view.

Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp. 585-596.

476 F.2d 467, reversed.


1. The examination of the exterior of respondent's automobile upon probable cause was reasonable, and invaded no right of privacy that the requirement of a search warrant is meant to protect. Pp. 588-592.

Page 584

(a) The primary object of the Fourth Amendment is the protection of privacy. Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 305-306. P. 589.

(b) Generally, less stringent warrant requirements are applied to vehicles than to homes or offices, Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132; Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, and the search of a vehicle is less intrusive and implicates a lesser expectation of privacy. Pp. 589-591.

(c) The "search" in this case, concededly made on the basis of probable cause, infringed no expectation of privacy. Pp. 591-592.

2. Under the circumstances of this case, the seizure by impounding the car was not unreasonable. Pp. 592-596.

(a) The vehicle was seized from a public place, where access was not meaningfully restricted. Chambers v. Maroney, supra, followed; Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, distinguished. Pp. 593-595.

(b) Exigent circumstances justifying a warrantless search of a vehicle are not limited to situations where probable cause is unforeseeable and arises only at the time of arrest. Cf. Chambers, supra, at 50-51. Pp. 595-596.

MR. JUSTICE POWELL, being of the view that the inquiry of a federal court on habeas corpus review of a state prisoner's Fourth Amendment claim should be confined solely to the question whether the defendant had an opportunity in the state courts to raise that claim and have it adjudicated fairly, would reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals, since respondent does not contend that he was denied that opportunity. See Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218, 250 (POWELL, J., concurring). P. 596.

BLACKMUN, J., announced the Court's judgment and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. Powell, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p. 596. STEWART, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 596.

Page 585

BLACKMUN, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN announced the judgment of the Court and an opinion in which the CHIEF JUSTICE, MR. JUSTICE WHITE, and MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST join.

This case presents the issue of the legality, under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, of a warrantless seizure of an automobile and the examination of its exterior at a police impoundment area after the car had been removed from a public parking lot.

Evidence obtained upon this examination was introduced at the respondent's state court trial for first-degree murder. He was convicted. The Federal District Court, on a habeas corpus application, ruled that the examination was a search violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. 354 F.Supp. 26 (SD Ohio 1972). The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed. 476 F.2d 467 (1973). We granted certiorari, 414 U.S. 1062 (1973), and now conclude that, under the circumstances of this case, there was no violation of the protection afforded by the Amendments.


In 1968, respondent Arthur Ben Lewis, Jr., was tried and convicted by a jury in an Ohio state court for the first-degree murder of Paul Radcliffe. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed the judgment of conviction. State v. Lewis, 22 Ohio St.2d 125, 258 N.E.2d 445 (1970). This Court denied review. Lewis v. Ohio, 400 U.S. 959 (1970).

Page 586

On respondent's federal habeas application, the District Court, from the record and after an evidentiary hearing, adduced the following facts:

On the afternoon of July 19, 1967, Radcliffe's body was found near his car on the banks of the Olentangy River in Delaware County, Ohio. The car had gone over the embankment and had come to rest in brush. Radcliffe had died from shotgun wounds. Casts were made of tire tracks at the scene, and foreign paint scrapings were removed from the right rear fender of Radcliffe's automobile.

Within five days of Radcliffe's death, the investigation began to focus upon respondent Lewis. It was learned that Lewis knew Radcliffe. Lewis had been negotiating the sale of a business and had executed a contract of sale. The purchaser, Jack Smith, employed Radcliffe,. an accountant, to examine Lewis' books. Police went to Lewis' place of business to question him, and there observed the model and color of his car in the thought that it might have been used to push the Radcliffe vehicle over the embankment. Not until several months later, however, in late September, was Lewis again questioned. On October 9, he was asked to appear the next morning at the Office of the Division of Criminal Activities in Columbus for further interrogation.

On October 10, at 8 am., a warrant for respondent's arrest was obtained.1 The District Court found that at

Page 587

this time, in addition to probable cause for the arrest, the police also had probable cause to believe that Lewis' car was used in the commission of the crime. An automobile similar to his had been observed leaving the scene; the color of his vehicle was similar to the color of the paint scrapings from the victim's car; in a telephone call to Mrs. Smith, [94 S.Ct. 2468] made by a person who said he was Radcliffe but proved not to be,2 the caller made statements that, if true, would benefit only Lewis; he had had body repair work done on the grille, hood, right front fender, and other parts of his car on the day following the crime; and the victim's desk calendar for the day of his death showed the notation, "Call Ben Lewis."3

Respondent Lewis complied with the request to appear. He drove his car to the Activities Office, placed it in a public commercial parking lot a half block away, and arrived shortly after 10 a.m. Although the police were in possession of the arrest warrant for the entire period that Lewis was present, he was not served with that warrant or arrested until late that, afternoon, at approximately 5 p.m. Two hours earlier, Lewis had been permitted to call his lawyer, and two attorneys were present on his behalf in the office at the time of the formal arrest. Upon the arrest, Lewis' car keys and the parking lot claim check were released to the police. A tow truck

Page 588

was dispatched to remove the car from the parking lot to the police impoundment lot.

The impounded car was examined the next day by a technician from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation. The tread of its right rear tire was found to match the cast of a tire impression made at the scene of the crime.4 The technician testified that, in his opinion, the foreign paint on the fender of Radcliffe's car was not different from the paint samples taken from respondent's vehicle, that is, there was no difference in color, texture, or order of layering of the paint.

The District Court concluded that the seizure and examination of Lewis' car were violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that the evidence obtained therefrom should have been excluded at the state court trial. The court, accordingly, issued a writ of habeas corpus requiring the State to "initiate action for a new trial...

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