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Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295 (1999)


No. 98-184. Argued January 12, 1999-Decided April 5, 1999

During a routine traffic stop, a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer noticed a hypodermic syringe in the driver’s shirt pocket, which the driver admitted using to take drugs. The officer then searched the passenger compartment for contraband, removing and searching what respondent, a passenger in the car, claimed was her purse. He found drug paraphernalia there and arrested respondent on drug charges. The trial court denied her motion to suppress all evidence from the purse as the fruit of an unlawful search, holding that the officer had probable cause to search the car for contraband, and, by extension, any containers therein that could hold such contraband. Respondent was convicted. In reversing, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that an officer with probable cause to search a vehicle may search all containers that might conceal the object of the search; but, if the officer knows or should know that a container belongs to a passenger who is not suspected of criminal activity, then the container is outside the scope of the search unless someone had the opportunity to conceal contraband within it to avoid detection. Applying that rule here, the court concluded that the search violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Held: Police officers with probable cause to search a car, as in this case, may inspect passengers’ belongings found in the car that are capable of concealing the object of the search. In determining whether a particular governmental action violates the Fourth Amendment, this Court inquires first whether the action was regarded as an unlawful search or seizure under common law when the Amendment was framed, see, e. g., Wilson v. Arkansas, 514 U. S. 927, 931. Where that inquiry yields no answer, the Court must evaluate the search or seizure under traditional reasonableness standards by balancing an individual’s privacy interests against legitimate governmental interests, see, e. g., Vernonia School Dist. -‘+ 7 v. Acton, 515 U. S. 646, 652-653. This Court has concluded that the Framers would have regarded as reasonable the warrantless search of a car that police had probable cause to believe contained contraband, Carroll v. United States, 267 U. S. 132, as well as the warrantless search of containers within the automobile, United States v. Ross, 456 U. S. 798. Neither Ross nor the historical evidence it relied upon admits of a distinction based on ownership. The analytical principle underlying Ross’s rule is also fully consistent with the balance of this



Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Even if the historical evidence were equivocal, the balancing of the relative interests weighs decidedly in favor of searching a passenger’s belongings. Passengers, no less than drivers, possess a reduced expectation of privacy with regard to the property they transport in cars. See, e. g., Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U. S. 583, 590. The degree of intrusiveness of a package search upon personal privacy and personal dignity is substantially less than the degree of intrusiveness of the body searches at issue in United States v. Di Re, 332 U. S. 581, and Ybarra v. Illinois, 444 U. S. 85. In contrast to the passenger’s reduced privacy expectations, the governmental interest in effective law enforcement would be appreciably impaired without the ability to search the passenger’s belongings, since an automobile’s ready mobility creates the risk that evidence or contraband will be permanently lost while a warrant is obtained, California v. Carney, 471 U. S. 386; since a passenger may have an interest in concealing evidence of wrongdoing in a common enterprise with the driver, cf. Maryland v. Wilson, 519 U. S. 408, 413-414; and since a criminal might be able to hide contraband in a passenger’s belongings as readily as in other containers in the car, see, e. g., Rawlings v. Kentucky, 448 U. S. 98, 102. The Wyoming Supreme Court’s “passenger property” rule would be unworkable in practice. Finally, an exception from the historical practice described in Ross protecting only a passenger’s property, rather than property belonging to anyone other than the driver, would be less sensible than the rule that a package may be searched, whether or not its owner is present as a passenger or otherwise, because it might contain the object of the search. Pp. 299-307.

956 P. 2d 363, reversed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C. J., and O’CONNOR, KENNEDY, THOMAS, and BREYER, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 307. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SOUTER and GINSBURG, JJ., joined, post, p.309.

Paul S. Rehurek, Deputy Attorney General of Wyoming, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Gay Woodhouse, Acting Attorney General, and D. Michael Pauling, Senior Assistant Attorney General.

Barbara McDowell argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, and Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben.

Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996)




No. 95-5841. Argued April 17, 1996-Decided June 10, 1996

Plainclothes policemen patrolling a “high drug area” in an unmarked vehicle observed a truck driven by petitioner Brown waiting at a stop sign at an intersection for an unusually long time; the truck then turned suddenly, without signaling, and sped off at an “unreasonable” speed. The officers stopped the vehicle, assertedly to warn the driver about traffic violations, and upon approaching the truck observed plastic bags of crack cocaine in petitioner Whren’s hands. Petitioners were arrested. Prior to trial on federal drug charges, they moved for suppression of the evidence, arguing that the stop had not been justified by either a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to believe petitioners were engaged in illegal drug-dealing activity, and that the officers’ traffic-violation ground for approaching the truck was pretextual. The motion to suppress was denied, petitioners were convicted, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: The temporary detention of a motorist upon probable cause to believe that he has violated the traffic laws does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable seizures, even if a reasonable officer would not have stopped the motorist absent some additional law enforcement objective. Pp. 809-819.

(a) Detention of a motorist is reasonable where probable cause exists to believe that a traffic violation has occurred. See, e. g., Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 659. Petitioners claim that, because the police may be tempted to use commonly occurring traffic violations as means of investigating violations of other laws, the Fourth Amendment test for traffic stops should be whether a reasonable officer would have stopped the car for the purpose of enforcing the traffic violation at issue. However, this Court’s cases foreclose the argument that ulterior motives can invalidate police conduct justified on the basis of probable cause. See, e. g., United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218, 221, n. 1,236. Subjective intentions play no role in ordinary, probable-cause Fourth Amendment analysis. Pp. 809-813.

(b) Although framed as an empirical question-whether the officer’s conduct deviated materially from standard police practices-petitioners’ proposed test is plainly designed to combat the perceived danger of pretextual stops. It is thus inconsistent with this Court’s cases, which


make clear that the Fourth Amendment’s concern with “reasonableness” allows certain actions to be taken in certain circumstances, whatever the subjective intent. See, e. g., Robinson, supra, at 236. Nor can the Fourth Amendment’s protections be thought to vary from place to place and from time to time, which would be the consequence of assessing the reasonableness of police conduct in light of local law enforcement practices. Pp. 813-816.

(c) Also rejected is petitioners’ argument that the balancing of interests inherent in Fourth Amendment inquiries does not support enforcement of minor traffic laws by plainclothes police in unmarked vehicles, since that practice only minimally advances the government’s interest in traffic safety while subjecting motorists to inconvenience, confusion, and anxiety. Where probable cause exists, this Court has found it necessary to engage in balancing only in cases involving searches or seizures conducted in a manner unusually harmful to the individual. See, e. g., Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U. S. 1. The making of a traffic stop out of uniform does not remotely qualify as such an extreme practice. pp. 816-819.

53 F.3d 371, affirmed.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Lisa Burget Wright argued the cause for petitioners.

With her on the briefs were A. J. Kramer, Neil H. Jaffee, and G. Allen Dale.

James A. Feldman argued the cause for the United States.

On the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Paul A. Engelmayer. *

*Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union by Steven R. Shapiro and Susan N. Herman; and for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by Natman Schaye and Walter B. Nash III.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Kent S. Scheidegger and Charles L. Hobson; and for the State of California et al. by Daniel E. Lungren, Attorney General of California, George Williamson, Chief Assistant Attorney General, Ronald A. Bass, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Joan Killeen and Catherine A. Rivlin, Supervising Deputy Attorneys General, and Christina V. Kuo, Deputy Attorney General; and by the Attorneys General for their respective States as follows: M. Jane Brady of Delaware,

Virginia v. Moore, 553 U.S. 164 (2008)

certiorari to the supreme court virginia

No. 06–1082. Argued January 14, 2008—Decided April 23, 2008

Rather than issuing the summons required by Virginia law, police arrested respondent Moore for the misdemeanor of driving on a suspended license. A search incident to the arrest yielded crack cocaine, and Moore was tried on drug charges. The trial court declined to suppress the evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds. Moore was convicted. Ultimately, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed, reasoning that the search violated the Fourth Amendment because the arresting officers should have issued a citation under state law, and the Fourth Amendment does not permit search incident to citation.

Held: The police did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they made an arrest that was based on probable cause but prohibited by state law, or when they performed a search incident to the arrest. Pp. 3–13.

   (a) Because the founding era’s statutes and common law do not support Moore’s view that the Fourth Amendment was intended to incorporate statutes, this is “not a case in which the claimant can point to a ‘clear answer [that] existed in 1791 and has been generally adhered to by the traditions of our society ever since,’ ” Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U. S. 318, 345. Pp. 3–5.

   (b) Where history provides no conclusive answer, this Court has analyzed a search or seizure in light of traditional reasonableness standards “by assessing, on the one hand, the degree to which it intrudes upon an individual’s privacy and, on the other, the degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests.”  Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U. S. 295, 300. Applying that methodology, this Court has held that when an officer has probable cause to believe a person committed even a minor crime, the arrest is constitutionally reasonable.  Atwater, supra, at 354. This Court’s decisions counsel against changing the calculus when a State chooses to protect privacy beyond the level required by the Fourth Amendment. See, e.g., Whren v. United States, 517 U. S. 35.  United States v. Di Re, 332 U. S. 581, distinguished. Pp. 6–8.

   (c) The Court adheres to this approach because an arrest based on probable cause serves interests that justify seizure. Arrest ensures that a suspect appears to answer charges and does not continue a crime, and it safeguards evidence and enables officers to conduct an in-custody investigation. A State’s choice of a more restrictive search-and-seizure policy does not render less restrictive ones unreasonable, and hence unconstitutional. While States are free to require their officers to engage in nuanced determinations of the need for arrest as a matter of their own law, the Fourth Amendment should reflect administrable bright-line rules. Incorporating state arrest rules into the Constitution would make Fourth Amendment protections as complex as the underlying state law, and variable from place to place and time to time. Pp. 8–11.

   (d) The Court rejects Moore’s argument that even if the Constitution allowed his arrest, it did not allow the arresting officers to search him. Officers may perform searches incident to constitutionally permissible arrests in order to ensure their safety and safeguard evidence.  United States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218. While officers issuing citations do not face the same danger, and thus do not have the same authority to search, Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U. S. 113, the officers arrested Moore, and therefore faced the risks that are “an adequate basis for treating all custodial arrests alike for purposes of search justification,” Robinson, supra, at 235. Pp. 11–13.

272 Va. 717, 636 S. E. 2d 395, reversed and remanded.

   Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Stevens, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, Breyer, and Alito, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment.

United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411 (1976)


A postal inspector received from an informant of known reliability a stolen credit card that respondent had given the informant to be used for their mutual advantage, and the inspector was told by the informant that respondent had agreed to furnish additional cards. At the inspector’s suggestion, a meeting was arranged between the informant and respondent for a few days later, which took place at a restaurant. Upon a prearranged signal from the informant that respondent had the additional cards, postal officers made a warrantless arrest of respondent, removed him from the restaurant, and gave him Miranda warnings. When a search of respondent’s person revealed no cards, a consented search of his nearby car (after respondent had been cautioned that the results could be used against him) revealed two additional cards in the names of other persons. Following an unsuccessful motion to suppress, these cards were used as evidence in respondent’s trial, which resulted in his conviction of possessing stolen mail. The Court of Appeals reversed, ruling that the Fourth Amendment prohibited use of that evidence because (1) notwithstanding probable cause for respondent’s arrest, the arrest was unconstitutional because the postal inspector had failed to secure an arrest warrant though he had time to do so, and (2) based on the totality of the circumstances (including the illegality of the arrest), respondent’s consent to the car search was coerced and thus, invalid.


1. The arrest of respondent, having been based on probable cause and made by postal officers acting in strict compliance with the governing statute and regulations, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp.  423 U. S. 414-424.

2. Since the arrest comported with the Fourth Amendment, respondent’s consent to the car search was not, contrary to the holding of the Court of Appeals, the product of an illegal arrest, nor were there any other circumstances indicating that respondent’s consent was not his own “essentially free and unconstrained 

Page 423 U. S. 412

choice” because his “will ha[d] been . . . overborne and his capacity for self-determination critically impaired,” Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U. S. 218,  412 U. S. 225. Pp.  423 U. S. 424 425.

504 F.2d 849, reversed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p.  423 U. S. 425. STEWART, J., filed an opinion concurring in the result, post, p.  423 U. S. 433. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p.  423 U. S. 433. STEVENS, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798 (1982)


Acting on information from an informant that a described individual was selling narcotics kept in the trunk of a certain car parked at a specified location, District of Columbia police officers immediately drove to the location, found the car there, and, a short while later, stopped the car and arrested the driver (respondent), who matched the informant’s description. One of the officers opened the car’s trunk, found a closed brown paper bag, and after opening the bag, discovered glassine bags containing white powder (later determined to be heroin). The officer then drove the car to headquarters, where another warrantless search of the trunk revealed a zippered leather pouch containing cash. Respondent was subsequently convicted of possession of heroin with intent to distribute — the heroin and currency found in the searches having been introduced in evidence after respondent’s pretrial motion to suppress the evidence had been denied. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, while the officers had probable cause to stop and search respondent’s car — including its trunk — without a warrant, they should not have opened either the paper bag or the leather pouch found in the trunk without first obtaining a warrant.

Held: Police officers who have legitimately stopped an automobile and who have probable cause to believe that contraband is concealed somewhere within it may conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle that is as thorough as a magistrate could authorize by warrant. Pp.  456 U. S. 804-825.

(a) The “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment’s warrant requirement established in Carroll v. United States, 267 U. S. 132, applies to searches of vehicles that are supported by probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband. In this class of cases, a search is not unreasonable if based on objective facts that would justify the issuance of a warrant, even though a warrant has not actually been obtained. Pp.  456 U. S. 804-809.

(b) However, the rationale justifying the automobile exception does not apply so as to permit a warrantless search of any movable container that is believed to be carrying an illicit substance and that is found in a public place even when the container is placed in a vehicle (not otherwise believed to be carrying contraband).  United States v. Chadwick, 433 U. S. 1; Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U. S. 753. Pp.  456 U. S. 809-814. 

Page 456 U. S. 799

(c) Where police officers have probable cause to search an entire vehicle, they may conduct a warrantless search of every part of the vehicle and its contents, including all containers and packages, that may conceal the object of the search. The scope of the search is not defined by the nature of the container in which the contraband is secreted. Rather, it is defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable cause to believe that it may be found. For example, probable cause to believe that undocumented aliens are being transported in a van will not justify a warrantless search of a suitcase. Pp.  456 U. S. 817-824.

(d) The doctrine of stare decisis does not preclude rejection here of the holding in Robbins v. California, 453 U. S. 420, and some of the reasoning in Arkansas v. Sanders, supra. Pp.  456 U. S. 824-825.

210 U.S.App.D.C. 342, 655 F.2d 1159, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O’CONNOR, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., post, p.  456 U. S. 825, and POWELL, J., post, p.  456 U. S. 826, filed concurring opinions. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion,post, p.  456 U. S. 826. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p.  456 U. S. 827.

United States v. Johns, 469 U.S. 478 (1985)




Pursuant to an investigation of a suspected drug smuggling operation, United States Customs officers, by ground and air surveillance, observed two pickup trucks as they traveled to a remote private airstrip in Arizona and the arrival and departure there of two small airplanes. The officers smelled the odor of marihuana as they approached the trucks and saw in the back of the trucks packages wrapped in dark green plastic and sealed with tape, a common method of packaging marihuana. After arresting certain of the respondents at the airstrip, the officers took the trucks back to Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) headquarters, and the packages were then placed in a DEA warehouse. Three days after the packages were seized from the trucks, Government agents, without obtaining a search warrant, opened some of the packages and took samples that later proved to be marihuana. Before trial on federal drug charges, the District Court granted the respondents’ motion to suppress the marihuana, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, concluding, inter alia, that United States v. Ross, 456 U. S. 798 — which held that, if police officers have probable cause to search a lawfully stopped vehicle, they may conduct a warrantless search of any containers found inside that may conceal the object of the search — did not authorize the warrantless search of the packages three days after they were removed from the trucks.

United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1 (1977)


When respondents arrived by train in Boston from San Diego, they were arrested at their waiting automobile by federal narcotics agents, who had been alerted that respondents were possible drug traffickers. A double-locked footlocker, which respondents had transported on the train and which the agents had probable cause to believe contained narcotics, had been loaded in the trunk of the automobile. Respondents, together with the automobile and footlocker, which was admittedly under the agents’ exclusive control, were then taken to the Federal Building in Boston. An hour and a half after the arrests, the agents opened the footlocker without respondents’ consent or a search warrant, and found large amounts of marihuana in it. Respondents were subsequently indicted for possession of marihuana with intent to distribute it. The District Court granted their pretrial motion to suppress the marihuana obtained from the footlocker, holding that warrantless searches are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment unless they fall within some established exception to the warrant requirement, and that the footlocker search was not justified under either the “automobile exception” or as a search incident to a lawful arrest; the Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Respondents were entitled to the protection of the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment, with the evaluation 

Page 433 U. S. 2

of a neutral magistrate, before their privacy interests in the contents of the footlocker were invaded. Pp.  433 U. S. 6-16.

(a) A fundamental purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to safeguard individuals from unreasonable government invasions of legitimate privacy interests, and not simply those interests inside the four walls of the home. Pp.  433 U. S. 6-11.

(b) By placing personal effects inside a double-locked footlocker, respondents manifested an expectation that the contents would remain free from public examination, and, no less than one who locks the doors of his home against intruders, one who safeguards his personal possessions in this manner is due the protection of the Fourth Amendment’s Warrant Clause; since there was no exigency calling for an immediate search, it was unreasonable for the Government to conduct the search without the safeguards a judicial warrant provides. P.  433 U. S. 11.

(c) The footlocker search was not justified under the “automobile exception,” since a person’s expectations of privacy in personal luggage are substantially greater than in an automobile. In this connection, the footlocker’s mobility did not justify dispensing with a search warrant, because, once the federal agents had seized the footlocker at the railroad station and safely transferred it to the Federal Building under their exclusive control, there was not the slightest danger that it or its contents could have been removed before a valid search warrant could be obtained. Pp.  433 U. S. 11-13.

(d) Nor was the footlocker search justified as a search incident to a lawful arrest, where the search was remote in time or place from the arrest and no exigency existed, the search having been conducted more than an hour after the federal agents had gained exclusive control of the footlocker and long after respondents were securely in custody. Pp.  433 U. S. 14-16.

532 F.2d 773, affirmed.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p.  433 U. S. 16. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p.  433 U. S. 17. 

Page 433 U. S. 3

South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976)


After respondent’s car had been impounded for multiple parking violations the police, following standard procedures, inventoried the contents of the car. In doing so, they discovered marihuana in the glove compartment, for the possession of which respondent was subsequently arrested. His motion to suppress the evidence yielded by the warrantless inventory search was denied, and respondent was thereafter convicted. The State Supreme Court reversed, concluding that the evidence had been obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth.

Held: The police procedures followed in this case did not involve an “unreasonable” search in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The expectation of privacy in one’s automobile is significantly less than that relating to one’s home or office, Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U. S. 583,  417 U. S. 590. When vehicles are impounded, police routinely follow caretaking procedures by securing and inventorying the cars’ contents. These procedures have been widely sustained as reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. This standard practice was followed here, and there is no suggestion of any investigatory motive on the part of the police. Pp.  428 U. S. 367-376.

89 S.D. ___ , 228 N.W.2d 152, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p.  428 U. S. 376. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p.  428 U. S. 396. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEWART, JJ., joined, post, p.  428 U. S. 384. 

Page 428 U. S. 365

Rodriguez v. United States, 575 U.S. (2015)



certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the eighth circuit

No. 13–9972. Argued January 21, 2015—Decided April 21, 2015

Officer Struble, a K–9 officer, stopped petitioner Rodriguez for driving on a highway shoulder, a violation of Nebraska law. After Struble attended to everything relating to the stop, including, inter alia, checking the driver’s licenses of Rodriguez and his passenger and issuing a warning for the traffic offense, he asked Rodriguez for permission to walk his dog around the vehicle. When Rodriguez refused, Struble detained him until a second officer arrived. Struble then retrieved his dog, who alerted to the presence of drugs in the vehicle. The ensuing search revealed methamphetamine. Seven or eight minutes elapsed from the time Struble issued the written warning until the dog alerted. 

Rodriguez was indicted on federal drug charges. He moved to suppress the evidence seized from the vehicle on the ground, among others, that Struble had prolonged the traffic stop without reasonable suspicion in order to conduct the dog sniff. The Magistrate Judge recommended denial of the motion. He found no reasonable suspicion supporting detention once Struble issued the written warning. Under Eighth Circuit precedent, however, he concluded that prolonging the stop by “seven to eight minutes” for the dog sniff was only a de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez’s Fourth Amendment rights and was for that reason permissible. The District Court then denied the motion to suppress. Rodriguez entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to five years in prison. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. Noting that the seven or eight minute delay was an acceptable “de minimis intrusion on Rodriguez’s personal liberty,” the court declined to reach the question whether Struble had reasonable suspicion to continue Rodriguez’s detention after issuing the written warning.


1. Absent reasonable suspicion, police extension of a traffic stop in order to conduct a dog sniff violates the Constitution’s shield against unreasonable seizures. 

A routine traffic stop is more like a brief stop under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1 , than an arrest, see, e.g.,Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U. S. 323 . Its tolerable duration is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405 and attend to related safety concerns. Authority for the seizure ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been—completed. The Fourth Amendment may tolerate certain unrelated investigations that do not lengthen the roadside detention, Johnson, 555 U. S., at 327–328 (questioning); Caballes, 543 U. S., at 406, 408 (dog sniff), but a traffic stop “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged beyond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a warning ticket, id., at 407.

Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safely and responsibly. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648 –659. Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission. 

In concluding that the de minimis intrusion here could be offset by the Government’s interest in stopping the flow of illegal drugs, the Eighth Circuit relied on Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106 . The Court reasoned in Mimms that the government’s “legitimate and weighty” interest in officer safety outweighed the “de minimis” additional intrusion of requiring a driver, lawfully stopped, to exit a vehicle, id., at 110–111. The officer-safety interest recognized in Mimms, however, stemmed from the danger to the officer associated with the traffic stop itself. On-scene investigation into other crimes, in contrast, detours from the officer’s traffic-control mission and therefore gains no support from Mimms

The Government’s argument that an officer who completes all traffic-related tasks expeditiously should earn extra time to pursue an unrelated criminal investigation is unpersuasive, for a traffic stop “prolonged beyond” the time in fact needed for the officer to complete his traffic-based inquiries is “unlawful,” Caballes, 543 U. S., at 407. The critical question is not whether the dog sniff occurs before or after the officer issues a ticket, but whether conducting the sniff adds time to the stop. Pp. 5–8.

2. The determination adopted by the District Court that detention for the dog sniff was not independently supported by individualized suspicion was not reviewed by the Eighth Circuit. That question therefore remains open for consideration on remand. P. 9.

741 F. 3d 905, vacated and remanded.

Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion. Thomas, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Alito, J., joined, and in which Kennedy, J., joined as to all but Part III. Alito, J., filed a dissenting opinion.

Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420 (1981)


When California Highway Patrol officers stopped petitioner’s station wagon for proceeding erratically, they smelled marihuana smoke as he opened the car door. In the ensuing search of the car, the officers found in the luggage compartment two packages wrapped in green opaque plastic. They then unwrapped the packages, both of which contained bricks of marihuana. Petitioner was charged with various drug offenses, and, after his pretrial motion to suppress the evidence found when the packages were unwrapped was denied, he was convicted. The California Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that the warrantless opening of the packages was constitutionally permissible, since any experienced observer could reasonably have inferred from the appearance of the packages that they contained bricks of marihuana.

Held: The judgment is reversed. Pp.  453 U. S. 423-29;  453 U. S. 429-436.

103 Cal. App. 3d 34, 162 Cal. Rptr. 780, reversed.

JUSTICE STEWART, joined by JUSTICE BRENNAN, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE MARSHALL, concluded that the opening of the packages without a search warrant violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 453 U. S. 423-429.

(a) A closed piece of luggage found in a lawfully searched car is constitutionally protected to the same extent as are closed pieces of luggage found anywhere else.  United States v. Chadwick, 433 U. S. 1; Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U. S. 753. Pp.  453 U. S. 423-425.

(b) With respect to the constitutional protection to which a closed container found in the lawful search of an automobile is entitled, there is no distinction between containers, such as suitcases, commonly used to transport “personal effects,” i.e., property worn on or carried about the person or having some intimate relation to the person, and flimsier containers, such as cardboard boxes and plastic bags. Such a distinction has no basis in the language or meaning of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people and their effects, and protects those effects whether they are “personal” or “impersonal.” And there are no objective criteria by which such a distinction could be made. Pp.  453 U. S. 425-427.

(c) Unless a closed container found in an automobile is such that 

Page 453 U. S. 421

its contents may be said to be in plain view, those contents are fully protected by the Fourth Amendment. Here, the evidence was insufficient to justify an exception to the rule on the ground that the contents of the packages in question could be inferred from their outward appearance. To fall within such exception, a container must so clearly announce its contents, whether by its distinctive configuration, transparency, or otherwise, that its contents are obvious to the observer. Pp.  453 U. S. 427-428.

JUSTICE POWELL concluded that petitioner had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the opaquely wrapped and sealed package in question. The Fourth Amendment requires a police officer to obtain a warrant before searching a container that customarily serves as a repository for personal effects or when, as here, the circumstances indicate that the defendant has a reasonable expectation that the contents will not be open to public scrutiny. Pp.  453 U. S. 429-436.

STEWART, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J., concurred in the judgment. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p.  453 U. S. 429. BLACKMUN, J., post, p.  453 U. S. 436, REHNQUIST, J., post, p.  453 U. S. 437, and STEVENS, J., post, p.  453 U. S. 444, filed dissenting opinions. 

Page 453 U. S. 422

Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106 (1977)


After police officers had stopped respondent’s automobile for being operated with an expired license plate, one of the officers asked respondent to step out of the car and produce his license and registration. As respondent alighted, a large bulge under his jacket was noticed by the officer, who thereupon frisked him and found a loaded revolver. Respondent was then arrested and subsequently indicted for carrying a concealed weapon and unlicensed firearm. His motion to suppress the revolver was denied and after a trial, at which the revolver was introduced in evidence, he was convicted. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed on the ground that the revolver was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment.


1. The order to get out of the car, issued after the respondent was lawfully detained, was reasonable, and thus permissible under the Fourth Amendment. The State’s proffered justification for such order — the officer’s safety — is both legitimate and weighty, and the intrusion into respondent’s personal liberty occasioned by the order, being, at most, a mere inconvenience, cannot prevail when balanced against legitimate concerns for the officer’s safety.

2. Under the standard announced in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1,  392 U. S. 21-22 — whether

“the facts available to the officer at the moment of the seizure or the search ‘warrant a man of reasonable caution in the belief’ that the action taken was appropriate”

— the officer was justified in making the search he did once the bulge in respondent’s jacket was observed.

Certiorari granted; 471 Pa. 546, 370 A.2d 1157, reversed and remanded.

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.

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