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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. 

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