Texas v. Brown
460 U.S. 730 (1983)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Texas v. Brown, 460 U.S. 730 (1983)

Texas v. Brown

No. 81-419

Argued January 12, 1983

Decided April 19, 1983

460 U.S. 730

Syllabus

A Fort Worth, Tex., police officer stopped respondent's automobile at night at a routine driver's license checkpoint, asked him for his license, shined his flashlight into the car, and saw an opaque, green party balloon, knotted near the tip, fall from respondent's hand to the seat beside him. Based on his experience in drug offense arrests, the officer was aware that narcotics frequently were packaged in such balloons, and while respondent was searching in the glove compartment for his license, the officer shifted his position to obtain a better view and noticed small plastic vials, loose white powder, and an open bag of party balloons in the glove compartment. After respondent stated that he had no driver's license in his possession and complied with the officer's request to get out of the car, the officer picked up the green balloon, which seemed to contain a powdery substance within its tied-off portion. Respondent was then advised that he was under arrest, an on-the-scene inventory search of the car was conducted, and other items were seized. At a suppression hearing in respondent's state court trial for unlawful possession of heroin, a police department chemist testified that heroin was contained in the balloon seized by the officer and that narcotics frequently were so packaged. Suppression of the evidence was denied, and respondent was convicted. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, holding that the evidence should have been suppressed because it was obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Rejecting the State's contention that the so-called "plain view" doctrine justified the seizure, the court concluded that, under Coolidge v. New Hampshire,403 U. S. 443, for that doctrine to apply, not only must the officer be legitimately in a position to view the object, but also it must be "immediately apparent" to the police that they have evidence before them, and thus the officer here had to know that incriminating evidence was before him when he seized the balloon.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

617 S.W.2d 196, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE REHNQUIST, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE, JUSTICE WHITE, and JUSTICE O'CONNOR, concluded that the police officer did not violate the Fourth Amendment in seizing the green balloon from respondent's automobile. The plain view doctrine provides grounds for

Page 460 U. S. 731

a warrantless seizure of a suspicious item when the officer's access to the item has some prior justification under the Fourth Amendment. This rule merely reflects an application of the Fourth Amendment's central requirement of reasonableness to the law governing seizures of property. Here, the officer's initial stop of respondent's vehicle was valid, and his actions in shining his flashlight into the car and changing his position to see what was inside did not violate any Fourth Amendment rights. The "immediately apparent" language in Coolidge, supra, does not establish a requirement that a police officer "know" that certain items are contraband or evidence of a crime.

"The seizure of property in plain view involves no invasion of privacy, and is presumptively reasonable, assuming that there is probable cause to associate the property with criminal activity."

Payton v. New York,445 U. S. 573, 445 U. S. 587. Probable cause is a flexible, common-sense standard, merely requiring that the facts available to the officer would warrant a man of reasonable caution to believe that certain items may be contraband or stolen property or useful as evidence of a crime; it does not demand any showing that such a belief be correct or more likely true than false. In view of the police officer's testimony here, corroborated by that of the police department chemist, as to the common use of balloons in packaging narcotics, the officer had probable cause to believe that the balloon contained an illicit substance. Moreover, the requirement of the plain view doctrine under Coolidge, supra, that the officer must discover incriminating evidence "inadvertently," without knowing in advance the location of the particular evidence and intending to seize it by use of the doctrine as a pretext, was no bar to the seizure here. Pp. 460 U. S. 735-744.

JUSTICE POWELL, joined by JUSTICE BLACKMUN, concurring in the judgment, concluded that the articulation in Coolidge, supra, of the plain view exception to the Warrant Clause requirements of the Fourth Amendment is dispositive of the issue here. Respondent conceded that the officer's initial intrusion was lawful, and that the discovery of the tied-off balloon was inadvertent, in that it was observed in the course of a lawful inspection of the front seat area of the automobile. If probable cause must be shown to justify the seizure, it existed here, in light of the evidence that tied-off balloons are common containers for carrying illegal narcotics. Moreover, a law enforcement officer may rely on his training and experience to draw inferences and make deductions that might well elude an untrained person. Pp. 460 U. S. 744-746.

JUSTICE STEVENS, joined by JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL, concurring in the judgment, concluded that, under the "plain view" exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement, the officer's warrantless temporary seizure of the balloon was proper, but that. before the balloon's contents could be used as evidence, the State

Page 460 U. S. 732

had to justify opening it without a warrant, a question that remains open to the state court on remand. Pp. 460 U. S. 747-751.

REHNQUIST, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 460 U. S. 744. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BLACKMUN, J., joined, post p. 460 U. S. 744. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 460 U. S. 747.

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