California v. Acevedo 500 U.S. 565, 111 S. Ct. 1982, 114 L. Ed.2d 619 (1991)
The police in Hawaii
interdicted a package containing drugs that had been mailed to a guy named
Daza. They alerted the police in California and let the package go. Daza
picked it up and brought it to his house.
When Daza left his house, the
police arrested him. Then they waited and watched while Acevedo entered
Daza's house and left with a suspicious package. As he drove off with the
package, the police stopped him, searched his car, and found the drugs in
the package. He was arrested and charged with drug possession.
The Trial Court convicted
Acevedo of drug possession. He appealed.
Acevedo argued that the
police did not have a warrant to search his vehicle, therefore it was an
unreasonable search and a violation of the 4th Amendment.
The prosecution countered
that Carroll v. United States
(267 U.S. 132 (1925)) held that there are privacy interests in an
automobile, but the ready mobility of the automobile justifies a lesser
degree of protection of those interests.
In general, vehicles can
be searched without a warrant if there is probable cause.
Acevedo argued that even if
a warrantless vehicle search was permitted, the drugs were inside of his
luggage, and therefore the question should be whether a warrantless luggage
search was reasonable, regardless of whether the luggage was in a car or
On the street, even with probable
cause the police can't search
luggage. They must seize it and get a warrant.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The prosecutor appealed.
The US Supreme Court reversed
the Appellate Court and upheld the conviction.
The US Supreme Court found
that the 4th Amendment
does not require a search warrant in order to search a container within a
vehicle, provided that they have probable cause to believe that the
container is in the vehicle.
The reasoning is that since
cars move, if the police go and get a search warrant, the car will be
long gone by the time they get back.
See United States v.
Chadwick (433 U.S. 1 (1977)) and Arkansas
v. Sanders (442 U.S. 753 (1979)),
which defined the Chadwick-Sanders Rule, which the Court
overruled in this decision.
The Court got around the
fact that you generally have to have a search warrant to search luggage
by saying that "if probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully
stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and
its contents that may conceal the object of the search."
See United States v.
Ross (456 U.S. 798 (1982)).
But isn't there a
difference between searching a car and opening a package that happens to
be in the car, and searching a car specifically because you are looking
to search the package?
In a dissent it was argued
that you could not have stopped Acevedo on the street and made a
warrantless search of the package. You could also not have made a
warrantless search of the vehicle because you did not have probable cause
to search the vehicle (there was probable cause to search the package, but
not the entire vehicle). So how could it be that putting the package in
the car somehow makes it ok?
Wouldn't it have been possible
for the police to take the package out of the car and hold it until they
got a warrant, similar to their procedure when they stop someone on the
street carrying a package? Was there really a good reason to change the
law in this manner?
Part of the reasoning in this
case was that there was an inconstancy in the law. If there was probable
cause that a car contained contraband,
the police could search the car and open any containers therein, but if
they had probable cause that
a container in a car contained contraband, they needed a warrant to open
the container. However, after this case, there was still an
inconsistency. Now if the police have probable cause that a container contains contraband the police
can search that container without a warrant if it is in a car, but not