People v. Roman

Citation422 N.E.2d 554,439 N.Y.S.2d 894,53 N.Y.2d 39
Parties, 422 N.E.2d 554 The PEOPLE of the State of New York, Respondent, v. Jose ROMAN, Appellant.
Decision Date14 May 1981
CourtNew York Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
David J. Goldstein, Norman J. Mordkofsky, New York City, and Elliot Fuld, Law Student, for appellant


The courts below held, correctly, that the police acted lawfully in stopping a car, placing the defendant under arrest and impounding the vehicle. In addition, after the car had been impounded the police had the right to search it to inventory its contents (South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000), which included a cigarette case found on the floor near the front seat. The question is whether it was proper for the police to also open the cigarette case to observe its contents as part of the inventory search.

The trial court held the search was not so authorized and accordingly suppressed the evidence and the defendant's statements concerning it. The Appellate Division, 74 A.D.2d 589, 424 N.Y.S.2d 489, reversed and the defendant appeals.

Initially it should be emphasized that the cigarette case was not taken from the defendant's person after he had been taken into custody (see, e. g., Gustafson v. Florida, 414 U.S. 260, 94 S.Ct. 488, 38 L.Ed.2d 456; Michigan v. DeFillippo, 443 U.S. 31, 99 S.Ct. 2627, 61 L.Ed.2d 343) nor was it seized at the time and place of arrest (see, e. g., Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 762, 89 S.Ct. 2034, 2039, 23 L.Ed.2d 685; cf. People v. Belton, 50 N.Y.2d 447, 429 N.Y.S.2d 574, 407 N.E.2d 420). The case was found in the car and it was searched after the defendant was arrested and the car had been removed to the police precinct by another officer who inventoried its contents. Thus the search cannot be said to be incident to an arrest (United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 53 L.Ed.2d 538).

As noted, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of the police to search an impounded vehicle to inventory its contents (South Dakota v. Opperman, supra). The court, however, has never held or suggested that an inventory search also includes the right to open or search packages, containers, or other items found in the vehicle. Generally such an item may be removed and placed in storage "without examining its contents" (South Dakota v. Opperman supra, 428 U.S. p. 380, n.7, 96 S.Ct. p. 380, n.7 In fact, in subsequent cases the court has pointedly observed that the right to conduct an inventory search has been held to extend only to "some integral part of the automobile", as opposed to the contents of the items found in the vehicle (Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 763, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 2592, 61 L.Ed.2d 235).

Although it had been thought that once an item had been taken from a car and was lawfully in police custody, it would be reasonable to expect the police to determine its contents (People v. Sullivan, 29 N.Y.2d 69, 72, 323 N.Y.S.2d 945, 272 N.E.2d 464), recent Supreme Court decisions have undermined that assumption. It is now clear that even in cases where the seizure is based on probable cause to believe that the item taken from a vehicle contains contraband or evidence of a crime, the right to seize does not include the right to conduct a warrantless search of its contents, absent exigent circumstances (Arkansas v. Sanders, supra; see, also, United States v. Chadwick, supra; cf. Walter v....

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  • Dixon v. Miller, 97 CV 0532(NG).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • July 14, 1999
    ...vehicle. The judge denied the motion, finding the search of the paper bag to be legal. Thereafter in People v. Roman, 53 N.Y.2d 39, 439 N.Y.S.2d 894, 422 N.E.2d 554 (1981), the New York Court of Appeals expressly held that the warrantless search of closed containers found as part of a valid......
  • People v. Belton
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • February 11, 1982
    ...visible 2 or some special exigency existed (Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, 84 S.Ct. 881, 11 L.Ed.2d 777; see People v. Roman, 53 N.Y.2d 39, 444 N.Y.S.2d 167; cf. Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 99 S.Ct. 2586, 61 L.Ed.2d 235, supra Justification for an automobile search contempor......
  • People v. Johnson
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • November 26, 1985
    ......Gonzalez, 62 N.Y.2d 386, 389-390, 477 N.Y.S.2d 103, 465 N.E.2d 823; People v. Ponder, 54 N.Y.2d 160, 165, 445 N.Y.S.2d 57, 429 N.E.2d 735; People v. Roman, 53 N.Y.2d 39, 41-42, 439 N.Y.S.2d 894, 422 N.E.2d 554). The practical considerations upon which uniformity rests must yield, however, to a predictable, structured analysis of the quality of evidence necessary to support intrusive searches and seizures. Certainly, when the Supreme Court has not ......
  • People v. P.J. Video, Inc.
    • United States
    • New York Court of Appeals
    • October 28, 1986
    ...477 N.Y.S.2d 103, 465 N.E.2d 823; People v. Ponder, 54 N.Y.2d 160, 165, 445 N.Y.S.2d 57, 429 N.E.2d 735; People v. Roman, 53 N.Y.2d 39, 41-42, 439 N.Y.S.2d 894, 422 N.E.2d 554). Here, the majority's decision to invalidate the search warrant 2 under the State Constitution proceeds on the pre......
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