466 U.S. 380 (1984), 83-1279, Florida v. Meyers

Docket Nº:No. 83-1279
Citation:466 U.S. 380, 104 S.Ct. 1852, 80 L.Ed.2d 381
Party Name:Florida v. Meyers
Case Date:April 23, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 380

466 U.S. 380 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 1852, 80 L.Ed.2d 381

Florida

v.

Meyers

No. 83-1279

United States Supreme Court

April 23, 1984

ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE DISTRICT

COURT OF APPEAL OF FLORIDA, FOURTH DISTRICT

Syllabus

At the time of respondent's arrest for sexual battery, police officers searched his automobile and seized several items. Approximately eight hours after the car was impounded, an officer, without obtaining a warrant, searched the car a second time, seizing additional evidence. The Florida trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress the evidence seized during the second search, and respondent was convicted. The Florida District Court of Appeal reversed, holding that even though respondent conceded that the initial search of the car was valid, the second warrantless search violated the Fourth Amendment because the car had been impounded, removing the element of mobility.

Held: The Fourth Amendment was not violated by the second search of respondent's car. The justification to conduct a warrantless search of a car that has been stopped on the road -- based on probable cause to believe there is evidence of crime inside it -- does not vanish once the car has been impounded and immobilized. Michigan v. Thomas, 458 U.S. 259.

Certiorari granted; 432 So.2d 97, reversed and remanded.

Per curiam opinion.

PER CURIAM.

Respondent was charged with sexual battery. At the time of his arrest, police officers searched his automobile and seized several items. The vehicle was then towed to Sunny's Wrecker, where it was impounded in a locked, secure area. Approximately eight hours later, a police officer went to the compound and, without obtaining a warrant, searched the car for a second time. Additional evidence was seized. At the subsequent trial, the court denied respondent's motion to suppress the evidence seized during the second search, and respondent was convicted.

On appeal, the Florida District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District reversed the conviction, holding that, even

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though respondent conceded that the initial search of the automobile was valid, the second search violated the Fourth Amendment. 432 So.2d 97 (1983). The court concluded that Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970), in which this Court held that police officers who have probable cause to believe there is contraband inside an automobile [104 S.Ct. 1853] that has been stopped on the road may search it without obtaining a warrant, was distinguishable, stating that "in this case, the element of mobility was removed because [respondent's] vehicle had been impounded." 432 So.2d at 99. The Florida Supreme Court denied the State's petition for discretionary review, and the State filed the present petition for certiorari. We reverse. *

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The District Court of Appeal either misunderstood or ignored our prior rulings with respect to the constitutionality of the warrantless search of an impounded automobile. In Michigan v. Thomas, 458 U.S. 259 (1982), we upheld a warrantless search of an automobile even though the automobile was in police custody and even though a prior inventory search had already been made. That ruling controls the disposition of this case. In Thomas, we expressly rejected the argument accepted by the District Court of Appeal in the present case, noting that the search upheld in Chambers was conducted "after [the automobile was] impounded and [was] in police custody" and emphasizing that "the justification to conduct such a warrantless search does not vanish once the car has been immobilized." 458 U.S. at 261. The District Court of Appeal's ruling that the subsequent search in this case was invalid because the car had been impounded is clearly inconsistent with Thomas and Chambers. The petition for certiorari is therefore granted, the judgment of the

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District Court of Appeal is reversed, and the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

STEVENS, J., dissenting

[104 S.Ct. 1854] JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.

No judicial system is perfect. In this case, the Florida District Court of Appeal for the Fourth District appears to have made an error. In the exercise of its discretion, the Florida Supreme Court elected not to correct that error. No reasons were given for its denial of review, and since the record is not before us, we cannot know what discretionary factors may have prompted the Florida Supreme Court's decision. This Court, however, finds time to correct the apparent error committed by the intermediate appellate court, acting summarily without benefit of briefs on the merits or argument.

This Court can only deal with a certain number of cases on the merits in any given Term, and therefore some judgment must attend the process of selection.

Torres-Valencia v. United States, 464 U.S. 44 (1983) (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting). If the error corrected today had been committed by a federal court, the Court's action arguably would be a proper exercise of its supervisory powers over the federal judicial system. See this Court's Rule 17.1(a). Or if the case raised a novel question of federal law on which there was a divergence of opinion, arguably it would be proper for the Court to assume jurisdiction for the purpose of clarifying the law. See this Court's Rules 17.1(b) and (c). Or if there were reason to believe that the state court refused to apply federal precedent because of its hostility to this Court's interpretation of the Constitution, see generally Cooper v. Aaron, 358 U.S. 1 (1958), we might have an obligation to act summarily to vindicate the supremacy of federal law. No such consideration is present in this case. In fact, the case on which the majority principally relies, Michigan v. Thomas, 458 U.S.

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259 (1982) (per curiam), was itself a summary disposition. Clearly, the law in this area is well settled. That being the case, I see no reason why we cannot leave to the Florida Supreme Court the task of managing its own discretionary docket.1

For three other reasons, I believe the Court should deny certiorari in cases of [104 S.Ct. 1855] this kind. First, our pronouncements

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concerning our confidence in the ability of the state judges to decide Fourth Amendment questions, see Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90 (1980); Stone v. Powell, 428 U.S. 465 (1976), are given a hollow ring when we are found peering over their shoulders after every misreading of the Fourth Amendment. Second, our ability to perform our primary responsibilities can only be undermined by enlarging our self-appointed role as supervisors of the administration of justice in the state judicial systems. Dispositions such as that today can only encourage prosecutors to file in increasing numbers petitions for certiorari in relatively routine cases, and if we take it upon...

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