Where police officers had probable cause to search respondent's
automobile at the scene immediately after arresting him for
attempting to pass fraudulent checks at a bank drive-in window,
such probable cause still obtained shortly thereafter at the
station house to which the automobile had been taken so that the
officers could constitutionally search the automobile there without
a warrant, Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U. S.
; hence, incriminating checks seized during the search
were admissible in evidence at respondent's trial.
Certiorari granted; 521
, reversed and remanded.
Respondent was arrested at 1:30 p.m. by Amarillo, Tex., police
officers while attempting to pass fraudulent checks at a drive-in
window of the First National Bank of Amarillo. Only 10 minutes
earlier, the officers had been informed by another bank that a man
answering respondent's description and driving an automobile
exactly matching that of respondent had tried to negotiate four
checks drawn on a nonexistent account. Upon arrival at the First
National Bank pursuant to a telephone call from that bank, the
officers obtained from the drive-in teller other checks that
respondent had attempted to pass there. The officers directed
respondent to park his automobile at the curb. While parking the
car, respondent was observed by a bank employee and one of the
officers attempting to "stuff" something between the seats.
Respondent was arrested and one officer drove him to the station
house while the other drove respondent's car there. At the station
Page 423 U. S. 68
officers questioned respondent for 30 to 45 minutes and,
pursuant to their normal procedure, requested consent to search the
automobile. Respondent refused to consent to the search. The
officers then proceeded to search the automobile anyway. During the
search, an officer discovered four wrinkled checks that
corresponded to those respondent had attempted to pass at the first
bank. The trial judge, relying on Chambers v. Maroney,
399 U. S. 42
(1970), admitted over respondent's objection the four checks seized
during the search of respondent's automobile at the station house.
The judge expressly found probable cause both for the arrest and
for the search of the vehicle, either at the scene or at the
station house. Respondent was convicted, after a jury trial, of
knowingly attempting to pass a forged instrument. The Texas Court
of Criminal Appeals, in a 3-2 decision, reversed respondent's
conviction on the ground that the four wrinkled checks used in
evidence were obtained without a warrant in violation of
respondent's Fourth Amendment rights. 521
(1975). We reverse.
In Chambers v. Maroney,
we held that police officers
with probable cause to search an automobile at the scene where it
was stopped could constitutionally do so later at the station house
without first obtaining a warrant. There, as here, "[t]he probable
cause factor" that developed at the scene "still obtained at the
station house." 399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 52
The Court of Criminal Appeals erroneously excluded the evidence
seized from the search at the station house in light of the trial
judge's finding, undisturbed by the appellate court, that there was
probable cause to search respondent's car.
The petition for certiorari and the motion of respondent to
proceed in forma pauperis
are granted, the judgment of the
Court of Criminal Appeals is reversed, and
Page 423 U. S. 69
the case is remanded to that court for further proceedings not
inconsistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN concurs,
Only by misstating the holding of Chambers v. Maroney,
399 U. S. 42
(1970), can the Court make that case appear dispositive of this
one. The Court, in its brief per curiam opinion today, extends
to a clearly distinguishable factual setting,
without having afforded the opportunity for full briefing and oral
argument. I respectfully dissent.
did not hold, as the Court suggests, that
"police officers with probable cause to search an automobile at the
scene where it was stopped could constitutionally do so later at
the station house without first obtaining a warrant." Ante
at 423 U. S. 68
simply held that to be the rule when it is
reasonable to take the car to the station house in the first
the Court took as its departure point this
Court's holding in Carroll v. United States, 267 U.
. . . holds a search warrant unnecessary where
there is probable cause to search an automobile stopped on the
highway; the car is movable, the occupants are alerted, and the
car's contents may never be found again if a warrant must be
obtained. Hence, an immediate search is constitutionally
399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 51
however, did not dispose of Chambers,
for in Chambers,
as in this case, the police did not
conduct an "immediate search," but rather seized the car and took
it to the station house before searching it. The Court in
went on to hold that, once the car was
Page 423 U. S. 70
legitimately at the station house, a prompt search could be
conducted. But in recognition of the need to justify the seizure
and removal of the car to the station house, the Court added:
"It was not unreasonable in this case to take the car to the
station house. All occupants in the car were arrested in a dark
parking lot in the middle of the night. A careful search at that
point was impractical, and perhaps not safe for the officers, and
it would serve the owner's convenience and the safety of his car to
have the vehicle and the keys together at the station house."
at 399 U. S. 52
In this case, the arrest took place at 1:30 in the afternoon,
and there is no indication that an immediate search would have been
either impractical or unsafe for the arresting officers. It may be,
of course, that respondent preferred to have his car brought to the
station house, but if his convenience was the concern of the
police, they should have consulted with him. Surely a seizure
cannot be justified on the sole ground that a citizen might have
consented to it as a matter of convenience. Since, then, there was
no apparent justification for the warrantless removal of
respondent's car, it is clear that this is a different case from
It might be argued that the taking of respondent's car to the
police station was neither more of a seizure nor, in practical
terms, more of an intrusion than would have been involved in an
immediate at-the-scene search, which was clearly permissible. Such
a contention may well be substantial enough to warrant full
briefing and argument, but it is not so clearly meritorious as to
warrant adoption in the summary fashion in which the Court
proceeds. Indeed, a reading of Chambers itself suggests that this
contention is without merit.
Page 423 U. S. 71
the Court considered and rejected the
argument that Carroll
was wrong in permitting a
warrantless search of an automobile -- that the immobilization of a
car until a search warrant is obtained is a "lesser" intrusion, and
should therefore be the outer bounds of what is permitted. The
Court noted that "which is the greater' and which the `lesser'
intrusion is itself a debatable question," 399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 51,
"For constitutional purposes, we see no difference between, on
the one hand, seizing and holding a car before presenting the
probable cause issue to a magistrate and, on the other hand,
carrying out an immediate search without a warrant."
at 399 U. S.
In the Court's view, then, the intrusion involved in initially
seizing a car on the highway and holding it for the short time
required to seek a warrant is so substantial as to be
constitutionally indistinguishable from the intrusion involved in a
search of the vehicle. But the Court did not stop with that
observation. It went on to note that, once a car is legitimately
brought to the station house, the additional intrusion involved in
simply immobilizing the car until a warrant can be sought is no
less significant than that involved in a station house search:
"[T]here is little to choose in terms of practical consequences
between an immediate search without a warrant and the car's
immobilization until a warrant is obtained."
It was because such temporary seizures were
deemed no less intrusive than searches themselves that Chambers
approved searches when temporary seizures would have been
In short, the basic premise of Chambers'
that seizures pending the seeking of a warrant are not
constitutionally preferred to warrantless
Page 423 U. S. 72
searches was that temporary seizures are themselves intrusive.
That same premise suggests that the seizure and removal of
respondent's car in this case were, quite apart from the subsequent
search, an intrusion of constitutional dimension that must be
independently justified. *
The seizure and
removal here were not for the purpose of immobilizing the car until
a warrant could be secured, nor were they for the purpose of
facilitating a safe and thorough search of the car. In the absence
of any other justification, I would hold the seizure of
petitioner's car unlawful, and exclude the evidence seized in the
I would have denied the petition for certiorari, but, now that
the writ has been granted, I would affirm the judgment of the Court
of Criminal Appeals, or at least set the case for oral argument. In
any event, it should be clear to the court below that nothing this
Court does today precludes it from reaching the result it did under
applicable state law. See Oregon v. Hass, 420 U.
, 420 U. S. 726
(1975) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting).
* One might argue that respondent's car was seized and held for
a shorter period of time than would be required to ask a magistrate
for a warrant, and that the intrusion here is therefore of less
significance than the intrusions referred to in Chambers.
took such time elements out of the equation.
While recognizing that the relative intrusiveness of an immediate
search and a seizure pending the seeking of a warrant would depend
on "a variety of circumstances," 399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 51
the Court preferred the predictability of a general rule "equating"
the intrusiveness of a search and a relatively brief seizure.
Having chosen such a general rule, the Court should follow it to
its logical conclusion.