480 U.S. 321 (1987), 86-1027, Arizona v. Hicks

Docket Nº:No. 86-1027
Citation:480 U.S. 321, 107 S.Ct. 1149, 94 L.Ed.2d 347, 55 U.S.L.W. 4258
Party Name:Arizona v. Hicks
Case Date:March 03, 1987
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 321

480 U.S. 321 (1987)

107 S.Ct. 1149, 94 L.Ed.2d 347, 55 U.S.L.W. 4258

Arizona

v.

Hicks

No. 86-1027

United States Supreme Court

March 3, 1987

Argued December 8, 1986

CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEALS OF ARIZONA

Syllabus

A bullet fired through the floor of respondent's apartment injured a man on the floor below. Police entered the apartment to search for the shooter, for other victims, and for weapons, and there seized three weapons and discovered a stocking-cap mask. While there, one of the policemen noticed two sets of expensive stereo components and, suspecting that they were stolen, read and recorded their serial numbers -- moving some of them, including a turntable, to do so -- and phoned in the numbers to headquarters. Upon learning that the turntable had been taken in an armed robbery, he seized it immediately. Respondent was subsequently indicted for the robbery, but the state trial court granted his motion to suppress the evidence that had been seized, and the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying upon a statement in Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, that a warrantless search must be "strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation," the Court of Appeals held that the policeman's obtaining the serial numbers violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unrelated to the shooting, the exigent circumstance that justified the initial entry and search. Both state courts rejected the contention that the policeman's actions were justified under the "plain view" doctrine.

Held:

1. The policeman's actions come within the purview of the Fourth Amendment. The mere recording of the serial numbers did not constitute a "seizure," since it did not meaningfully interfere with respondent's possessory interest in either the numbers or the stereo equipment. However, the moving of the equipment was a "search" separate and apart from the [107 S.Ct. 1151] search that was the lawful objective of entering the apartment. The fact that the search uncovered nothing of great personal value to respondent is irrelevant. Pp. 324-325.

2. The "plain view" doctrine does not render the search "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 325-329.

(a) The policeman's action directed to the stereo equipment was not ipso facto unreasonable simply because it was unrelated to the justification for entering the apartment. That lack of relationship always exists when the "plain view" doctrine applies. In saying that a warrantless search must be "strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation," Mincey was simply addressing the scope of the primary

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search itself, and was not overruling the "plain view" doctrine by implication. Pp. 325-326.

(b) However, the search was invalid because, as the State concedes, the policeman had only a "reasonable suspicion" -- i.e., less than probable cause to believe -- that the stereo equipment was stolen. Probable cause is required to invoke the "plain view" doctrine as it applies to seizures. It would be illogical to hold that an object is seizable on lesser grounds, during an unrelated search and seizure, than would have been needed to obtain a warrant for it if it had been known to be on the premises. Probable cause to believe the equipment was stolen was also necessary to support the search here, whether legal authority to move the equipment could be found only as the inevitable concomitant of the authority to seize it or also as a consequence of some independent power to search objects in plain view. Pp. 326-328.

3. The policeman's action cannot be upheld on the ground that it was not a "full-blown search," but was only a "cursory inspection" that could be justified by reasonable suspicion instead of probable cause. A truly cursory inspection -- one that involves merely looking at what is already exposed to view, without disturbing it -- is not a "search" for Fourth Amendment purposes, and therefore does not even require reasonable suspicion. This Court is unwilling to create a subcategory of "cursory" searches under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 328-329.

146 Ariz. 533, 707 P.2d 331, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 329. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 330. O'CONNOR, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 333.

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SCALIA, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971), we said that, in certain circumstances, a warrantless seizure by police of an item that comes within plain view during their lawful search of a private area may be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. See id. at 465-471 (plurality opinion); id. at 505-506 (Black, J., concurring and dissenting); id. at 521-522 (WHITE, J., concurring and dissenting). We granted certiorari, 475 U.S. 1107 (1986), in the present case to decide whether this "plain view" doctrine may be invoked when the police have less than probable cause to believe that the item in question is evidence of a crime or is contraband.

I

On April 18, 1984, a bullet was fired through the floor of respondent's apartment, striking and injuring a man in the [107 S.Ct. 1152] apartment below. Police officers arrived and entered respondent's apartment to search for the shooter, for other victims, and for weapons. They found and seized three weapons, including a sawed-off rifle, and in the course of their search also discovered a stocking-cap mask.

One of the policemen, Officer Nelson, noticed two sets of expensive stereo components, which seemed out of place in the squalid and otherwise ill-appointed four-room apartment. Suspecting that they were stolen, he read and recorded their serial numbers -- moving some of the components, including a Bang and Olufsen turntable, in order to do so -- which he then reported by phone to his headquarters. On being advised that the turntable had been taken in an armed robbery, he seized it immediately. It was later determined that some of the other serial numbers matched those on other stereo equipment taken in the same armed robbery, and a warrant

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was obtained and executed to seize that equipment as well. Respondent was subsequently indicted for the robbery.

The state trial court granted respondent's motion to suppress the evidence that had been seized. The Court of Appeals of Arizona affirmed. It was conceded that the initial entry and search, although warrantless, were justified by the exigent circumstance of the shooting. The Court of Appeals viewed the obtaining of the serial numbers, however, as an additional search, unrelated to that exigency. Relying upon a statement in Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978), that a "warrantless search must be `strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation,'" id. at 393 (citation omitted), the Court of Appeals held that the police conduct violated the Fourth Amendment, requiring the evidence derived from that conduct to be excluded. 146 Ariz. 533, 534-535, 707 P.2d 331, 332-333 (1985). Both courts -- the trial court explicitly and the Court of Appeals by necessary implication -- rejected the State's contention that Officer Nelson's actions were justified under the "plain view" doctrine of Coolidge v. New Hampshire, supra. The Arizona Supreme Court denied review, and the State filed this petition.

II

As an initial matter, the State argues that Officer Nelson's actions constituted neither a "search" nor a "seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. We agree that the mere recording of the serial numbers did not constitute a seizure. To be sure, that was the first step in a process by which respondent was eventually deprived of the stereo equipment. In and of itself, however, it did not "meaningfully interfere" with respondent's possessory interest in either the serial numbers or the equipment, and therefore did not amount to a seizure. See Maryland v. Macon, 472 U.S. 463, 469 (1985).

Officer Nelson's moving of the equipment, however, did constitute a "search" separate and apart from the search for

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the shooter, victims, and weapons that was the lawful objective of his entry into the apartment. Merely inspecting those parts of the turntable that came into view during the latter search would not have constituted an independent search, because it would have produced no additional invasion of respondent's privacy interest. See Illinois v. Andreas, 463 U.S. 765, 771 (1983). But taking action, unrelated to the objectives of the authorized intrusion, which exposed to view concealed portions of the apartment or its contents, did produce a new invasion of respondent's privacy unjustified by the exigent circumstance that validated the entry. This is why, contrary to JUSTICE POWELL's suggestion, post at 333, the "distinction between `looking' at a suspicious object in plain view and `moving' it even a few inches" is much more than trivial for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. It matters not that the search uncovered nothing of any great personal value to respondent -- serial numbers rather than (what might conceivably have been hidden behind [107 S.Ct. 1153] or under the equipment) letters or photographs. A search is a search, even if it happens to disclose nothing but the bottom of a turntable.

III

The remaining question is whether the search was "reasonable" under the Fourth Amendment.

On this aspect of the case, we reject, at the outset, the apparent position of the Arizona Court of Appeals that, because the officers' action...

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