California v. Acevedo, No. 89-1690

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtBLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion. STEVENS, J., filed a dissent
Citation500 U.S. 565,111 S.Ct. 1982,114 L.Ed.2d 619
Decision Date30 May 1991
Docket NumberNo. 89-1690
PartiesCALIFORNIA, Petitioner v. Charles Steven ACEVEDO

500 U.S. 565
111 S.Ct. 1982
114 L.Ed.2d 619
CALIFORNIA, Petitioner

v.

Charles Steven ACEVEDO.

No. 89-1690.
Argued Jan. 8, 1991.
Decided May 30, 1991.
Syllabus

Police observed respondent Acevedo leave an apartment, known to contain marijuana, with a brown paper bag the size of marijuana packages they had seen earlier. He placed the bag in his car's trunk, and, as he drove away, they stopped the car, opened the trunk and the bag, and found marijuana. Acevedo's motion to suppress the marijuana was denied, and he pleaded guilty to possession of marijuana for sale. The California Court of Appeal held that the marijuana should have been suppressed. Finding that the officers had probable cause to believe that the bag contained drugs but lacked probable cause to suspect that the car, itself, otherwise contained contraband, the court concluded that the case was controlled by United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 53 L.Ed.2d 538, which held that police could seize movable luggage or other closed containers but could not open them without a warrant, since, inter alia, a person has a heightened privacy expectation in such containers.

Held: Police, in a search extending only to a container within an automobile, may search the container without a warrant where they have probable cause to believe that it holds contraband or evidence. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543—which held that a warrantless search of an automobile based upon probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained evidence of crime in the light of an exigency arising out of the vehicle's likely disappearance did not contravene the Fourth Amendment's Warrant Clause—provides one rule to govern all automobile searches. Pp. 569-581.

(a) Separate doctrines have permitted the warrantless search of an automobile to include a search of closed containers found inside the car when there is probable cause to search the vehicle, United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 but prohibited the warrantless search of a closed container located in a moving vehicle when there is probable cause to search only the container, Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 61 L.Ed.2d 235. Pp. 569-572.

(b) The doctrine of stare decisis does not preclude this Court from eliminating the warrant requirement of Sanders, which was specifically undermined in Ross. The Chadwick-Sanders rule affords minimal protection to privacy interests. Police, knowing that they may open a bag only if they are searching the entire car, may search more extensively

Page 566

than they otherwise would in order to establish the probable cause Ross requires. Cf. United States v. Johns, 469 U.S. 478, 105 S.Ct. 881, 83 L.Ed.2d 890. And they may seize a container and hold it until they obtain a search warrant or search it without a warrant as a search incident to a lawful arrest. Moreover, the search of a paper bag intrudes far less on individual privacy than does the incursion sanctioned in Carroll, where prohibition agents slashed a car's upholstery. The Chadwick-Sanders rule also is the antithesis of a clear and unequivocal guideline and, thus, has confused courts and police officers and impeded effective law enforcement. United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 103 S.Ct. 2637, 77 L.Ed.2d 110; Oklahoma v. Castleberry, 471 U.S. 146, 105 S.Ct. 1859, 85 L.Ed.2d 112 distinguished. Pp. 572-579.

(c) This holding neither extends the Carroll doctrine nor broadens the scope of permissible automobile searches. In the instant case, the probable cause the police had to believe that the bag in the car's trunk contained marijuana now allows a warrantless search of the bag, but the record reveals no probable cause to search the entire vehicle. P. 579-580.

216 Cal.App.3d 586, 265 Cal.Rptr. 23, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined.

Robert M. Foster, San Diego, Cal., for petitioner.

Fred W. Anderson, Santa Ana, Cal., for respondent.

Justice BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case requires us once again to consider the so-called "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and its application to the search of a closed container in the trunk of a car.

I

On October 28, 1987, Officer Coleman of the Santa Ana, Cal., Police Department received a telephone call from a fed-

Page 567

eral drug enforcement agent in Hawaii. The agent informed Coleman that he had seized a package containing marijuana which was to have been delivered to the Federal Express Office in Santa Ana and which was addressed to J.R. Daza at 805 West Stevens Avenue in that city. The agent arranged to send the package to Coleman instead. Coleman then was to take the package to the Federal Express office and arrest the person who arrived to claim it.

Coleman received the package on October 29, verified its contents, and took it to the Senior Operations Manager at the Federal Express office. At about 10:30 a.m. on October 30, a man, who identified himself as Jamie Daza, arrived to claim the package. He accepted it and drove to his apartment on West Stevens. He carried the package into the apartment.

At 11:45 a.m., officers observed Daza leave the apartment and drop the box and paper that had contained the marijuana into a trash bin. Coleman at that point left the scene to get a search warrant. About 12:05 p.m., the officers saw Richard St. George leave the apartment carrying a blue knapsack which appeared to be half full. The officers stopped him as he was driving off, searched the knapsack, and found 11/2 pounds of marijuana.

At 12:30 p.m., respondent Charles Steven Acevedo arrived. He entered Daza's apartment, stayed for about 10 minutes, and reappeared carrying a brown paper bag that looked full. The officers noticed that the bag was the size of one of the wrapped marijuana packages sent from Hawaii. Acevedo walked to a silver Honda in the parking lot. He placed the bag in the trunk of the car and started to drive away. Fearing the loss of evidence, officers in a marked police car stopped him. They opened the trunk and the bag, and found marijuana.1

Page 568

Respondent was charged in state court with possession of marijuana for sale, in violation of Cal. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 11359 (West Supp.1987). App. 2. He moved to suppress the marijuana found in the car. The motion was denied. He then pleaded guilty but appealed the denial of the suppression motion.

The California Court of Appeal, Fourth District, concluded that the marijuana found in the paper bag in the car's trunk should have been suppressed. People v. Acevedo, 216 Cal.App.3d 586, 265 Cal.Rptr. 23 (1990). The court concluded that the officers had probable cause to believe that the paper bag contained drugs but lacked probable cause to suspect that Acevedo's car, itself, otherwise contained contraband. Because the officers' probable cause was directed specifically at the bag, the court held that the case was controlled by United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 53 L.Ed.2d 538 (1977), rather than by United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982). Although the court agreed that the officers could seize the paper bag, it held that, under Chadwick, they could not open the bag without first obtaining a warrant for that purpose. The court then recognized "the anomalous nature" of the dichotomy between the rule in Chadwick and the rule in Ross. 216 Cal.App.3d, at 592, 265 Cal.Rptr., at 27. That dichotomy dictates that if there is probable cause to search a car, then the entire car—including any closed container found therein—may be searched without a warrant, but if there is probable cause only as to a container in the car, the container may be held but not searched until a warrant is obtained.

The Supreme Court of California denied the State's petition for review. App. to Pet. for Cert. 33. On May 14, 1990, Justice O'CONNOR stayed enforcement of the Court of Appeal's judgment pending the disposition of the State's petition for certiorari, and, if that petition were granted, the issuance of the mandate of this Court.

We granted certiorari, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 39, 112 L.Ed.2d 15 (1990), to reexamine the law applicable to a closed container in an automobile, a

Page 569

subject that has troubled courts and law enforcement officers since it was first considered in Chadwick.

II

The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." Contemporaneously with the adoption of the Fourth Amendment, the First Congress, and, later, the Second and Fourth Congresses, distinguished between the need for a warrant to search for contraband concealed in "a dwelling house or similar place" and the need for a warrant to search for contraband concealed in a movable vessel. See Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 151, 45 S.Ct. 280, 284, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925). See also Boyd v. United States, 116 U.S. 616, 623-624, 6 S.Ct. 524, 528-529, 29 L.Ed. 746 (1886). In Carroll, this Court established an exception to the warrant requirement for moving vehicles, for it recognized

"a necessary difference between a search of a store, dwelling house or other structure in respect of which a proper official warrant readily may be obtained, and a search of a ship, motor boat, wagon or automobile, for contraband goods, where it is not practicable to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought." 267 U.S., at 153, 45 S.Ct., at 285.

It therefore held that a...

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1460 practice notes
  • United States v. Wurie, No. 11–1792.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 17, 2013
    ...in United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 53 L.Ed.2d 538 (1977), abrogated on other grounds by California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991), this time emphasizing that not all warrantless searches undertaken in the context of a custodial arrest ......
  • U.S. v. McGlory, Nos. 90-3604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 19, 1992
    ...United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 2173, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982)); see also California v. Acevedo, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 1991, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991) (clarifying scope of automobile exception); United States v. Schecter, 717 F.2d 864, 867-71 (3d Cir.1983) (disc......
  • U.S. v. Perea, No. 100
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • February 11, 1993
    ...U.S. 753, 762, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 2592, 61 L.Ed.2d 235 (1979), overruled on other grounds, California v. Acevedo, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 1988-91, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991)), and ruled that the defendant had established his possessory interest in the bag as a bailee, see Benite......
  • Commonwealth v. Alexander, No. 30 EAP 2019
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2020
    ...in a particular case.’ " Missouri v. McNeely , 569 U.S. 141, 150 n.3, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (citing California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 569–70, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991) ). What Gary did not settle is whether the federal automobile exception is consistent with Articl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1457 cases
  • United States v. Wurie, No. 11–1792.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 17, 2013
    ...in United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 53 L.Ed.2d 538 (1977), abrogated on other grounds by California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991), this time emphasizing that not all warrantless searches undertaken in the context of a custodial arrest ......
  • U.S. v. McGlory, Nos. 90-3604
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (3rd Circuit)
    • June 19, 1992
    ...United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798, 825, 102 S.Ct. 2157, 2173, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982)); see also California v. Acevedo, --- U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 1991, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991) (clarifying scope of automobile exception); United States v. Schecter, 717 F.2d 864, 867-71 (3d Cir.1983) (disc......
  • U.S. v. Perea, No. 100
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • February 11, 1993
    ...U.S. 753, 762, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 2592, 61 L.Ed.2d 235 (1979), overruled on other grounds, California v. Acevedo, --- U.S. ----, ---- - ----, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 1988-91, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991)), and ruled that the defendant had established his possessory interest in the bag as a bailee, see Benite......
  • Commonwealth v. Alexander, No. 30 EAP 2019
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 22, 2020
    ...in a particular case.’ " Missouri v. McNeely , 569 U.S. 141, 150 n.3, 133 S.Ct. 1552, 185 L.Ed.2d 696 (citing California v. Acevedo, 500 U.S. 565, 569–70, 111 S.Ct. 1982, 114 L.Ed.2d 619 (1991) ). What Gary did not settle is whether the federal automobile exception is consistent with Articl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
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