479 U.S. 367 (1987), 85-889, Colorado v. Bertine

Docket Nº:No. 85-889
Citation:479 U.S. 367, 107 S.Ct. 738, 93 L.Ed.2d 739, 55 U.S.L.W. 4105
Party Name:Colorado v. Bertine
Case Date:January 14, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
FREE EXCERPT

Page 367

479 U.S. 367 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 738, 93 L.Ed.2d 739, 55 U.S.L.W. 4105

Colorado

v.

Bertine

No. 85-889

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 14, 1987

Argued November 10, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF COLORADO

Syllabus

A Boulder, Colorado, police officer arrested respondent for driving his van while under the influence of alcohol. After respondent was taken into custody and before a tow truck arrived to take the van to an impoundment lot, another officer, acting in accordance with local police procedures, inventoried the van's contents, opening a closed backpack in which he found various containers holding controlled substances, cocaine paraphernalia, and a large amount of cash. Prior to his trial on charges including drug offenses, the state trial court granted respondent's motion to suppress the evidence found during the inventory search. Although the court determined that the search did not violate respondent's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, it held that the search violated the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, but [107 S.Ct. 739] premised its ruling on the Federal Constitution.

Held: The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the State from proving the criminal charges with the evidence discovered during the inventory search of respondent's van. This case is controlled by the principles governing inventory searches of automobiles and of an arrestee's personal effects, as set forth in South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, and Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U.S. 640, rather than those governing searches of closed trunks and suitcases conducted solely for the purpose of investigating criminal conduct. United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, and Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, distinguished. The policies behind the warrant requirement, and the related concept of probable cause, are not implicated in an inventory search, which serves the strong governmental interests in protecting an owner's property while it is in police custody, insuring against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and guarding the police from danger. There was no showing here that the police, who were following standardized caretaking procedures, acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation. Police, before inventorying a container, are not required to weigh the strength of the individual's privacy interest in the container against the possibility that the container might serve as a repository for dangerous or valuable items. There is no merit to the contention that the search of respondent's van was unconstitutional because departmental regulations gave the police discretion to choose between impounding the van and parking

Page 368

and locking it in a public parking place. The exercise of police discretion is not prohibited so long as that discretion is exercised -- as was done here -- according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity. Pp. 371-376.

706 P.2d 411, reversed.

REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which POWELL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 376. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 377.

REHNQUIST, J., lead opinion

CHIEF JUSTICE REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

On February 10, 1984, a police officer in Boulder, Colorado, arrested respondent Steven Lee Bertine for driving while under the influence of alcohol. After Bertine was taken into custody and before the arrival of a tow truck to take Bertine's van to an impoundment lot,1 a backup officer

Page 369

inventoried the contents of the van. The officer opened a closed backpack in which he found controlled substances, cocaine paraphernalia, and a large amount of cash. Bertine was subsequently charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol, unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to dispense, sell, and distribute, and unlawful possession of methaqualone. We are asked to decide whether the [107 S.Ct. 740] Fourth Amendment prohibits the State from proving these charges with the evidence discovered during the inventory of Bertine's van. We hold that it does not.

The backup officer inventoried the van in accordance with local police procedures, which require a detailed inspection and inventory of impounded vehicles. He found the backpack directly behind the front seat of the van. Inside the pack, the officer observed a nylon bag containing metal canisters. Opening the canisters, the officer discovered that they contained cocaine, methaqualone tablets, cocaine paraphernalia, and $700 in cash. In an outside zippered pouch of the backpack, he also found $210 in cash in a sealed envelope. After completing the inventory of the van, the officer had the van towed to an impound lot and brought the backpack, money, and contraband to the police station.

After Bertine was charged with the offenses described above, he moved to suppress the evidence found during the inventory search on the ground, inter alia, that the search of the closed backpack and containers exceeded the permissible scope of such a search under the Fourth Amendment. The Colorado trial court ruled that probable cause supported Bertine's arrest, and that the police officers had made the decisions to impound the vehicle and to conduct a thorough inventory search in good faith. Although noting that the inventory of the vehicle was performed in a "somewhat slipshod" manner, the District Court concluded that

the search of the backpack was done for the purpose of protecting the

Page 370

owner's property, protection of the police from subsequent claims of loss or stolen property, and the protection of the police from dangerous instrumentalities.

App. 81-83. The court observed that the standard procedures for impounding vehicles mandated a "detailed inventory involving the opening of containers and the listing of [their] contents." Id. at 81. Based on these findings, the court determined that the inventory search did not violate Bertine's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Id. at 83. The court, nevertheless, granted Bertine's motion to suppress, holding that the inventory search violated the Colorado Constitution.

On the State's interlocutory appeal, the Supreme Court of Colorado affirmed. 706 P.2d 411 (1986). In contrast to the District Court, however, the Colorado Supreme Court premised its ruling on the United States Constitution. The court recognized that, in South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976), we had held inventory searches of automobiles to be consistent with the Fourth Amendment, and that, in Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U.S. 640 (1983), we had held that the inventory search of personal effects of an arrestee at a police station was also permissible under that Amendment. The Supreme Court of Colorado felt, however, that our decisions in Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753 (1979), and United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1 (1977), holding searches of closed trunks and suitcases to violate the Fourth Amendment, meant that Opperman and Lafayette did not govern this case.2

We granted certiorari to consider the important and recurring question of federal law decided by the Colorado Supreme

Page 371

Court.3 475 U.S. 1081 (1986). [107 S.Ct. 741] As that court recognized, inventory searches are now a well defined exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. See Lafayette, supra, at 643; Opperman, supra, at 367-376. The policies behind the warrant requirement are not implicated in an inventory search, Opperman, 428 U.S. at 370, n. 5, nor is the related concept of probable cause:

The standard of probable cause is peculiarly related to criminal investigations, not routine, noncriminal procedures. . . . The probable cause approach is unhelpful when analysis centers upon the reasonableness of routine administrative caretaking functions, particularly when no claim is made that the protective procedures are a subterfuge for criminal investigations.

Ibid. See also United States v. Chadwick, supra, at 10, n. 5. For these reasons, the Colorado Supreme Court's reliance on Arkansas v. Sanders, supra, and United States v. Chadwick, supra, was incorrect. Both of these cases concerned searches solely for the purpose of investigating criminal conduct, with the validity of the searches therefore dependent on the application of the probable cause and warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment.

By contrast, an inventory search may be "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment even though it is not conducted pursuant to a warrant based upon probable cause. In

Page 372

Opperman, this Court assessed the reasonableness of an inventory search of the glove compartment in an abandoned automobile impounded by the police. We found that inventory procedures serve to protect an owner's property while it is in the custody of the police, to insure against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and to guard the police from danger. In light of these strong governmental interests and the diminished expectation of privacy in an automobile, we upheld the search. In reaching this decision, we observed that our cases accorded deference to police caretaking procedures designed to secure and protect vehicles and their contents within police custody. See Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58, 61-62 (1967); Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 236 (1968); Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 447-448 (1973).4

In our more recent decision, Lafayette, a police officer conducted an inventory search of the contents of a shoulder bag in the possession of an individual being taken into custody. In deciding whether this search was reasonable, we recognized that the search served...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP