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

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

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.

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