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Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938 (1996)



No. 95-1691. Decided July 1, 1996*

In No. 95-1691, police found cocaine when they searched the trunk of respondent Labron’s car after observing him and others engaging in drug transactions on a Philadelphia street. In No. 95-1738, a search of respondent Kilgore’s truck during a drug raid on his home turned up cocaine. In both cases, probable cause existed for the searches, but the police did not obtain warrants. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court suppressed the evidence seized in each case, holding that the Fourth Amendment requires police to obtain a warrant before searching an automobile unless exigent circumstances are present.

Held: The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement requires only that there be probable cause to conduct a search. This Court’s early cases establishing the automobile exception were based on the automobile’s ready mobility, an exigency sufficient to excuse failure to obtain a search warrant once probable cause to conduct the search is clear. See, e. g., California v. Carney, 471 U. S. 386,390391. More recent cases provide a further justification: the individual’s reduced privacy expectation in an automobile, owing to its pervasive regulation. Ibid. This Court’s jurisdiction in Labron’s case is secure. The Commonwealth’s automobile exception jurisprudence appears to be interwoven with federal law, and the adequacy and independence of any possible state-law ground for the exception is not clear from the face of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion. Michigan v. Long, 463 U. S. 1032, 1040-1041. Since the opinion in Kilgore’s case rests on the explicit conclusion that the officers’ conduct violated the Fourth Amendment, this Court has jurisdiction to review that judgment as well.

Certiorari granted; No. 95-1691, 543 Pa. 86, 669 A. 2d 917, and No. 951738,544 Pa. 439, 677 A. 2d 311, reversed and remanded.


In these two cases, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania held that the Fourth Amendment, as applied to the States through the Fourteenth, requires police to obtain a warrant

*Together with No. 95-1738, Pennsylvania v. Kilgore, also on petition for writ of certiorari to the same court.


before searching an automobile unless exigent circumstances are present. Because the holdings rest on an incorrect reading of the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement, we grant the petitions for certiorari and reverse.

In Labron, No. 95-1691, police observed respondent Labron and others engaging in a series of drug transactions on a street in Philadelphia. The police arrested the suspects, searched the trunk of a car from which the drugs had been produced, and found bags containing cocaine. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the trial court (but not with the intermediate court of appeals, 428 Pa. Super. 616, 626 A. 2d 646 (1993), whose judgment it reversed) that this evidence should be suppressed. 543 Pa. 86, 669 A. 2d 917 (1995). After surveying our precedents on the automobile exception as well as some of its own decisions, the court “conclude[d] that this Commonwealth’s jurisprudence of the automobile exception has long required both the existence of probable cause and the presence of exigent circumstances to justify a warrantless search.” Id., at 100, 669 A. 2d, at 924. Satisfied the police had time to secure a warrant, id., at 100103, 699 A. 2d, at 924-925, the court held that “the warrantless search of this stationary vehicle violated constitutional guarantees,” id., at 101, 669 A. 2d, at 924.

In Kilgore, No. 95-1738, an undercover informant agreed to buy drugs from respondent Randy Lee Kilgore’s accomplice, Kelly Jo Kilgore. To obtain the drugs, Kelly Jo drove from the parking lot where the deal was made to a farmhouse where she met with Randy Kilgore and obtained the drugs. After the drugs were delivered and the Kilgores were arrested, police searched the farmhouse with the consent of its owner and also searched Randy Kilgore’s pickup truck; they had seen the Kilgores walking to and from the truck, which was parked in the driveway of the farmhouse. The search turned up cocaine on the truck’s floor. The trial court denied Randy Kilgore’s motion to suppress the cocaine, holding the officers had probable cause to make the search.