Acting on an informant's information that respondent, upon
arriving at an airport, would be carrying a green suitcase
containing marihuana, Little Rock, Ark., police officers placed the
airport under surveillance. They watched as respondent retrieved a
green suitcase from the airline baggage service, placed it into the
trunk of a taxi, and entered the vehicle with a companion. When the
taxi drove away, two of the officers gave pursuit and stopped the
vehicle several blocks from the airport, requesting the taxi driver
to open the vehicle's trunk. Without asking the permission of
respondent or his companion, the police opened the unlocked
suitcase and discovered marihuana. Before trial in state court on a
charge of possession of marihuana with intent to deliver,
respondent moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the
suitcase, contending that the search violated his rights under the
Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court denied the
motion, and respondent was convicted. The Arkansas Supreme Court
reversed, ruling that the marihuana should have been suppressed
because it was obtained through an unlawful search of the
In the absence of exigent circumstances, police
are required to obtain a warrant before searching luggage taken
from an automobile properly stopped and searched for contraband.
Cf. United States v. Chadwick, 433 U. S.
. Pp. 442 U. S.
(a) In the ordinary case, a search of private property must be
both reasonable and pursuant to a properly issued search warrant.
The mere reasonableness of a search, assessed in the light of the
surrounding circumstances, is not a substitute for the judicial
warrant required under the Fourth Amendment. P. 442 U. S.
(b) The "automobile exception" from the warrant requirement, as
set forth in Carroll v. United States, 267 U.
, and its progeny, will not be extended to the
warrantless search of one's personal luggage merely because it was
located in an automobile lawfully stopped by the police. Luggage is
a common repository for one's personal effects, and therefore is
inevitably associated with the expectation of privacy. Once police
have seized a suitcase from an automobile, the extent of its
mobility is in no way affected by the place from which it was
taken; accordingly, as a general rule, there is no greater need for
warrantless searches of luggage taken from automobiles than of
luggage taken from
Page 442 U. S. 754
other places. Similarly, a suitcase taken from an automobile
stopped on the highway is not necessarily attended by any lesser
expectation of privacy than is associated with luggage taken from
other locations. Where -- as in the present case -- the police,
without endangering themselves or risking loss of the evidence,
lawfully have detained one suspected of criminal activity and
secured his suitcase, they should delay the search thereof until
after judicial approval has been obtained. Pp. 442 U. S.
262 Ark. 595, 559 S.W.2d
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. BURGER, C.J.,
filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which STEVENS, J.,
p. 442 U. S. 766
BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J.,
p. 442 U. S.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case presents the question whether, in the absence of
exigent circumstances, police are required to obtain a warrant
before searching luggage taken from an automobile properly stopped
and searched for contraband. We took this case by writ of
certiorari to the Supreme Court of Arkansas to resolve some
apparent misunderstanding as to the application of our decision in
United States v. Chadwick, 433 U. S.
(1977), to warrantless searches of luggage seized from
automobiles. [Footnote 1
Page 442 U. S. 755
On April 23, 1976, Officer David Isom of the Little Rock, Ark.,
Police Department received word from an informant that, at 4:35
that afternoon, respondent would arrive aboard an American Airlines
flight at gate No. 1 of the Municipal Airport of Little Rock.
According to the informant, respondent would be carrying a green
suitcase containing marihuana. Both Isom and the informant knew
respondent well, as in January, 1976, the informant had given the
Little Rock Police Department information that had led to
respondent's arrest and conviction for possession of marihuana.
Acting on the tip, Officer Isom and two other police officers
placed the airport under surveillance. As the informant had
predicted, respondent duly arrived at gate No. 1. The police
watched as respondent deposited some hand luggage in a waiting
taxicab, returned to the baggage claim area, and met a man whom
police subsequently identified as David Rambo. While Rambo waited,
respondent retrieved from the airline baggage service a green
suitcase matching that described by the informant. Respondent gave
this suitcase to his companion and went outside, where he entered
the taxi into which he had put his luggage. Rambo waited a short
while in the airport and then joined respondent in the taxi, after
placing the green suitcase in the trunk of the vehicle.
When respondent's taxi drove away carrying respondent, Rambo,
and the suitcase, Officer Isom and one of his fellow officers gave
pursuit and, with the help of a patrol car, stopped the vehicle
several blocks from the airport. At the request of the police, the
taxi driver opened the trunk of his vehicle, where the officers
found the green suitcase. Without asking the permission of either
respondent or Rambo, the police opened the unlocked suitcase and
discovered what proved to be 9.3 pounds of marihuana packaged in 10
On October 14, 1976, respondent and Rambo were charged with
possession of marihuana with intent to deliver in violation
Page 442 U. S. 756
of Ark.Stat.Ann. § 82-2617 (1976). [Footnote 2
] Before trial, respondent moved to suppress the
evidence obtained from the suitcase, contending that the search
violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The
trial court held a hearing on January 31, 1977, and denied the
suppression motion without explanation. After respondent's
conviction by a jury on February 3, 1977, he was sentenced to 10
years in prison and was fined $15,000.
On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed respondent's
conviction, ruling that the trial court should have suppressed the
marihuana because it was obtained through an unlawful search of the
suitcase. 262 Ark. 595, 559 S.W.2d
(1977). Relying upon United States v. Chadwick,
and Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.
(1971), the court concluded that a warrantless
search generally must be supported by "probable cause coupled with
exigent circumstances." 262 Ark., at 599, 559 S.W.2d at 706. In the
present case, the court found there was ample probable cause for
the police officers' belief that contraband was contained in the
suitcase they searched. The court found to be wholly lacking,
however, any exigent circumstance justifying the officers' failure
to secure a warrant for the search of the luggage. With the police
in control of the automobile and its occupants, there was no danger
that the suitcase and its contents would be rendered unavailable to
due legal process. The court concluded, therefore, that there was
"nothing in this set of circumstances that would lend credence to
an assertion of impracticality in obtaining a search warrant."
at 600, 559 S.W.2d at 706. [Footnote 3
Page 442 U. S. 757
Although the general principles applicable to claims of Fourth
Amendment violations are well settled, litigation over requests for
suppression of highly relevant evidence continues to occupy much of
the attention of courts at all levels of the state and federal
judiciary. Courts and law enforcement officials often find it
difficult to discern the proper application of these principles to
individual cases, because the circumstances giving rise to
suppression requests can vary almost infinitely. Moreover, an
apparently small difference in the factual situation frequently is
viewed as a controlling difference in determining Fourth Amendment
rights. The present case presents an example. Only two Terms ago,
we held that a locked footlocker could not lawfully be searched
without a warrant, even though it had been loaded into the trunk of
an automobile parked at a curb. United States v. Chadwick,
433 U. S. 1
In earlier cases, on the other hand, the Court sustained the
constitutionality of warrantless searches of automobiles and their
contents under what has become known as the "automobile exception"
to the warrant requirement. See, e.g., Chambers v.
Maroney, 399 U. S. 42
(1970); Carroll v. United States, 267 U.
(1925). We thus are presented with the task of
determining whether the warrantless search of respondent's suitcase
falls on the Chadwick
or the Chambers/Carroll
side of the Fourth Amendment line. Although in a sense this is a
line-drawing process, it must be guided by established
We commence with a summary of these principles. The Fourth
Amendment protects the privacy and security of persons
Page 442 U. S. 758
in two important ways. First, it guarantees "[t]he right of the
people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,
against unreasonable searches and seizures." In addition, this
Court has interpreted the Amendment to include the requirement that
normally searches of private property be performed pursuant to a
search warrant issued in compliance with the Warrant Clause.
] See, e.g.,
Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U. S. 385
437 U. S. 390
(1978); United States v. Chadwick, supra
at 433 U. S. 9
United States v. United States District Court,
407 U. S. 297
407 U. S. 317
(1972); Katz v. United States, 389 U.
, 389 U. S. 357
(1967); Agnello v. United States, 269 U. S.
, 269 U. S. 33
(1925). In the ordinary case, therefore, a search of private
property must be both reasonable and pursuant to a properly issued
search warrant. The mere reasonableness of a search, assessed in
the light of the surrounding circumstances, is not a substitute for
the judicial warrant required under the Fourth Amendment. See
United States v. United States District Court, supra.
Court said in Coolidge v. New Hampshire, supra
403 U. S.
"The warrant requirement has been a valued part of our
constitutional law for decades, and it has determined the result in
scores and scores of cases in courts all over this country. It is
not an inconvenience to be somehow 'weighed' against the claims of
police efficiency. It is, or should be, an important working part
of our machinery of government, operating as a matter of course to
check the 'well intentioned but mistakenly overzealous executive
officers' who are a part of any system of law enforcement.
Page 442 U. S. 759
The prominent place the warrant requirement is given in our
decisions reflects the"
"basic constitutional doctrine that individual freedoms will
best be preserved through a separation of powers and division of
functions among the different branches and levels of
United States v. United States District Court, supra
407 U. S. 317
By requiring that conclusions concerning probable cause and the
scope of a search
"be drawn by a neutral and detached magistrate instead of being
judged by the officer engaged in the often competitive enterprise
of ferreting out crime,"
Johnson v. United States, 333 U. S.
, 333 U. S. 14
(1948), we minimize the risk of unreasonable assertions of
executive authority. See McDonald v. United States,
335 U. S. 451
335 U. S.
-456 (1948). [Footnote 5
Nonetheless, there are some exceptions to the warrant
requirement. These have been established where it was concluded
that the public interest required some flexibility in the
application of the general rule that a valid warrant is a
prerequisite for a search. See United States v.
Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S. 543
428 U. S. 555
(1976). Thus, a few "jealously and carefully drawn" [Footnote 6
] exceptions provide for those
cases where the societal costs of obtaining a warrant, such as
danger to law officers or the risk of loss or destruction of
evidence, outweigh the reasons for prior recourse to a neutral
magistrate. See United States v. United States District Court,
at 407 U. S. 318
But because each exception to the warrant requirement invariably
impinges to some extent on the protective purpose of
Page 442 U. S. 760
the Fourth Amendment, the few situations in which a search may
be conducted in the absence of a warrant have been carefully
delineated, and "the burden is on those seeking the exemption to
show the need for it." United States v. Jeffers,
342 U. S. 48
342 U. S. 51
(1951). See Chimel v. California, 395 U.
, 395 U. S. 762
(1969); Katz v. United States, supra
at 389 U. S. 357
Moreover, we have limited the reach of each exception to that which
is necessary to accommodate the identified needs of society.
See Mincey v. Arizona, supra
at 437 U. S. 393
United States v. Chadwick,
433 U.S. at 433 U. S. 15
Coolidge v. New Hampshire,
403 U.S. at 403 U. S.
One of the circumstances in which the Constitution does not
require a search warrant is when the police stop an automobile on
the street or highway because they have probable cause to believe
it contains contraband or evidence of a crime. See United
States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra
at 428 U. S.
-562; United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.
, 422 U. S. 896
(1975); Texas v. White, 423 U. S. 67
423 U. S. 68
(1975). As the Court said in Carroll v. United States,
U.S. at 267 U. S.
"[T]he guaranty of freedom from unreasonable searches and
seizures by the Fourth Amendment has been construed, practically
since the beginning of the Government, as recognizing a necessary
difference between a search of a store, dwelling house or other
structure in respect of which a proper official warrant readily may
be obtained, and a search of a ship, motor boat, wagon or
automobile, for contraband goods, where it is not practicable to
secure a warrant. . . . [Footnote
Page 442 U. S. 761
There are essentially two reasons for the distinction between
automobiles and other private property. First, as the Court
repeatedly has recognized, the inherent mobility of automobiles
often makes it impracticable to obtain a warrant. See, e.g.,
United States v. Chadwick, supra
at 433 U. S. 12
Chambers v. Maroney,
399 U.S. at 399 U. S. 49
Carroll v. United States, supra.
In addition, the
configuration, use, and regulation of automobiles often may dilute
the reasonable expectation of privacy that exists with respect to
differently situated property. See Rakas v. Illinois,
439 U. S. 128
439 U. S. 155
(1978) (POWELL, J., concurring); United States v. Chadwick,
supra; South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.
, 428 U. S. 368
(1978); Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.
, 417 U. S. 590
(1974) (plurality opinion); Cady v. Dombrowski,
413 U. S. 433
413 U. S.
-442 (1973); Almeida-Sanchez v. United
States, 413 U. S. 266
413 U. S. 279
(1973) (POWELL, J., concurring) .
In the present case, the State argues that the warrantless
search of respondent's suitcase was proper under Carroll
and its progeny. [Footnote 8
The police acted properly -- indeed commendably -- in apprehending
respondent and his luggage. They had ample probable cause to
believe that respondent's green suitcase contained marihuana. A
previously reliable informant had provided a detailed account of
respondent's expected arrival at the Little Rock Airport, which
account proved to be accurate in every detail, including the color
of the suitcase in which respondent would be carrying the
marihuana. Having probable cause to believe that contraband was
being driven away in the taxi, the police were justified in
stopping the vehicle, searching it on the spot, and seizing the
suitcase they suspected contained contraband. See Chambers v.
at 399 U. S. 52
oral argument, respondent conceded that the
Page 442 U. S. 762
stopping of the taxi and the seizure of the suitcase were
constitutionally unobjectionable. See
Tr. of Oral Arg. 30,
The only question, therefore, is whether the police, rather than
immediately searching the suitcase without a warrant, should have
taken it, along with respondent, to the police station, and there
obtained a warrant for the search. A lawful search of luggage
generally may be performed only pursuant to a warrant. In
we declined an invitation to extend the
exception to all searches of luggage, noting that
neither of the two policies supporting warrantless searches of
automobiles applies to luggage. Here, as in Chadwick,
officers had seized the luggage and had it exclusively within their
control at the time of the search. Consequently,
"there was not the slightest danger that [the luggage] or its
contents could have been removed before a valid search warrant
could be obtained."
433 U.S. at 433 U. S. 13
And, as we observed in that case, luggage is a common repository
for one's personal effects, and therefore is inevitably associated
with the expectation of privacy. Ibid.
The State argues, nevertheless, that the warrantless search of
respondent's suitcase was proper not because the property searched
was luggage, but rather because it was taken from an automobile
lawfully stopped and searched on the street. In effect, the State
would have us extend Carroll
to allow warrantless searches
of everything found within an automobile, as well as of the vehicle
itself. As noted above, the Supreme Court of Arkansas found our
decision in Chadwick
virtually controlling in this case.
] The State
contends, however, that
Page 442 U. S. 763
remained parked at the curb where the footlocker had been placed
in its trunk, and that therefore no argument was made that the
"automobile exception" was applicable. This Court has not had
occasion previously to rule on the constitutionality of a
warrantless search of luggage taken from an automobile lawfully
stopped. Rather, the decisions to date have involved searches of
some integral part of the automobile. See, e.g., South Dakota
v. Opperman, supra,
at 428 U. S. 366
(glove compartment); Texas v. White,
423 U.S. at
423 U. S. 68
(passenger compartment); Cady v. Dombrowski, supra,
413 U. S. 437
(trunk); Chambers v. Maroney, supra
at 399 U. S. 44
(concealed compartment under the dashboard); Carroll v. United
267 U.S. at 267 U. S. 136
(behind the upholstering of the seats).
We conclude that the State has failed to carry its burden of
demonstrating the need for warrantless searches of luggage properly
taken from automobiles. A closed suitcase in the trunk of an
automobile may be as mobile as the vehicle in which it rides. But
as we noted in Chadwick,
the exigency of mobility must be
assessed at the point immediately before the search -- after the
police have seized the object to be searched and have it securely
within their control. [Footnote
433 U.S. at 433 U. S. 13
Once police have seized a suitcase, as they did here, the extent of
its mobility is in no way affected by the place from which it was
taken. [Footnote 11
Accordingly, as a general rule, there is
Page 442 U. S. 764
no greater need for warrantless searches of luggage taken from
automobiles than of luggage taken from other places. [Footnote 12
Similarly, a suitcase taken from an automobile stopped on the
highway is not necessarily attended by any lesser expectation of
privacy than is associated with luggage taken from other locations.
One is not less inclined to place private, personal possessions in
a suitcase merely because the suitcase is to be carried in an
automobile rather than transported by other means or temporarily
checked or stored. Indeed, the very purpose of a suitcase is to
serve as a repository for personal items when one wishes to
transport them. [Footnote
Page 442 U. S. 765
the reasons for not requiring a warrant for the search of an
automobile do not apply to searches of personal luggage taken by
police from automobiles. We therefore find no justification for the
extension of Carroll
and its progeny to the warrantless
search of one's personal luggage merely because it was located in
an automobile lawfully stopped by the police. [Footnote 14
Page 442 U. S. 766
In sum, we hold that the warrant requirement of the Fourth
Amendment applies to personal luggage taken from an automobile to
the same degree it applies to such luggage in other locations.
Thus, insofar as the police are entitled to search such luggage
without a warrant, their actions must be justified under some
exception to the warrant requirement other than that applicable to
automobiles stopped on the highway. Where -- as in the present case
-- the police, without endangering themselves or risking loss of
the evidence, lawfully have detained one suspected of criminal
activity and secured his suitcase, they should delay the search
thereof until after judicial approval has been obtained. In this
way, constitutional rights of suspects to prior judicial review of
searches will be fully protected.
The judgment of the Arkansas Supreme Court is
Compare United States v. Finnegan,
568 F.2d 637,
641-642 (CA9 1977), with United States v. Stevie,
1175, 1178-1179 (CA8 1978) (en banc).
In addition to the marihuana found in the suitcase, police
officers found one ounce of heroin hidden in their patrol car after
transporting Rambo to police headquarters. Accordingly, Rambo also
was charged with possession of heroin with intent to deliver.
Immediately before trial on both counts, the court severed the
heroin possession count for later trial.
"With the suitcase safely immobilized, it was unreasonable to
undertake the additional and greater intrusion of a search without
a warrant." 262 Ark. at 601, 559 S.W.2d at 707. The court also
rejected the State's contention that luggage is entitled to a
lesser protection against warrantless searches than are other
private areas, such as homes. It noted that suitcases, unlike
automobiles, customarily are the repositories for personal
The Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment provides that
"no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by
Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be
searched and the persons or things to be seized."
The Fourth Amendment has been made fully applicable to the
States by the Fourteenth Amendment. See Mapp v. Ohio,
367 U. S. 643
(1961); Wolf v. Colorado, 338 U. S.
(1949). In this opinion, we refer to the Fourth
Amendment as it so applies to the State of Arkansas.
The need for a carefully drawn, limited warrant for searches of
private premises was the product in large part of the colonists'
resentment of the writs of assistance to which they were subjected
by the English. See United States v. Chadwick,
433 U. S. 1
433 U. S. 8
(1977); J. Landynski, Search and Seizure and the Supreme Court 19
(1966); N. Lasson, The History and Development of the Fourth
Amendment to the United States Constitution 51-78 (1937). Mr.
Justice Frankfurter went so far as to suggest that abuses of the
writs of assistance were "so deeply felt by the Colonies as to be
one of the potent causes of the Revolution." United States v.
Rabinowitz, 339 U. S. 56
339 U. S. 69
(1950) (dissenting opinion).
Jones v. United States, 357 U.
, 357 U. S. 499
The willingness of courts to excuse the absence of a warrant
where spontaneous searches are required of a vehicle on the road
has led to what is called the "automobile exception" to the warrant
requirement, although the exception does not invariably apply
whenever automobiles are searched. See, e.g., Coolidge v. New
Hampshire, 403 U. S. 443
403 U. S.
-462 (1971) ("The word automobile' is not a
talisman in whose presence the Fourth Amendment fades away and
disappears"). See generally Moylan, The Automobile
Exception: What it is and What it is not -- A Rationale in Search
of a Clearer Label, 27 Mercer L.Rev. 987 (1976).
Respondent concedes that the suitcase was his property,
Brief for Respondent 3, and so there is no question of
his standing to challenge the search. See Simmons v. United
States, 390 U. S. 377
390 U. S.
-388 (1968). Cf. Rakas v. Illinois,
439 U. S. 128
439 U. S.
The facts of the two cases are similar in several critical
respects. In Chadwick,
a locked, 200-pound footlocker was
searched without a warrant after the police, acting with probable
cause, had taken it from the trunk of a parked automobile. In the
present case, respondent's comparatively small, unlocked suitcase
also had been placed in the trunk of an automobile, and was
searched without a warrant by police acting upon probable cause. We
do not view the difference in the sizes of the footlocker and
suitcase as material here; nor did respondent's failure to lock his
suitcase alter its fundamental character as a repository for
personal, private effects. Cf.
Note, A Reconsideration of
Expectation of Privacy Test, 76 Mich.L.Rev. 154,
The difficulties in seizing and securing automobiles have led
the Court to make special allowances for their search. See
n. 14 infra.
There may be cases in which the special exigencies of the
situation would justify the warrantless search of a suitcase.
Cf. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U. S. 433
(1973) (police had reason to suspect automobile trunk contained a
weapon). Generally, however, such exigencies will depend upon the
probable contents of the luggage and the suspect's access to those
contents -- not upon whether the luggage is taken from an
automobile. In the present case, the State has conceded that there
were no special exigencies. See
Tr. of Oral Arg. 16.
Nor do we consider the constitutionality of searches of luggage
incident to the arrest of its possessor. See, e.g., United
States v. Robinson, 414 U. S. 218
(1973). The State has not argued that respondent's suitcase was
searched incident to his arrest, and it appears that the bag was
not within his "immediate control" at the time of the search.
We have recognized that personal property brought into the
country may be searched at the border under circumstances that
would not otherwise justify a warrantless search. See United
States v. Ramsey, 431 U. S. 606
431 U. S.
-617 (1977). Arkansas does not assert, however, that
the search of respondent's luggage was a border search. Moreover,
it may be that the public safety requires luggage to be searched
without a warrant in some circumstances -- such as when luggage is
about to be placed onto an airplane. This presents questions under
the Fourth Amendment wholly absent from the present case.
It is beyond question that the police easily could have obtained
a warrant to search respondent's bag if they had taken the suitcase
to a magistrate. They had probable cause to believe not only that
respondent was carrying marihuana, but also that the contraband was
contained in the suitcase that they seized. The State argues that,
under the circumstances of this case, inconvenience to all
concerned would have been the only result of deferring search of
the suitcase until a warrant was obtained. Those in respondent's
position who find such inconvenience unacceptable may avoid it
simply by consenting to the search.
Not all containers and packages found by police during the
course of a search will deserve the full protection of the Fourth
Amendment. Thus, some containers (for example a kit of burglar
tools or a gun case), by their very nature, cannot support any
reasonable expectation of privacy, because their contents can be
inferred from their outward appearance. Similarly, in some cases,
the contents of a package will be open to "plain view," thereby
obviating the need for a warrant. See Harris v. United
States, 390 U. S. 234
390 U. S. 236
(1968) (per curiam). There will be difficulties in determining
which parcels taken from an automobile require a warrant for their
search and which do not. Our decision in this case means only that
a warrant generally is required before personal luggage can be
searched, and that the extent to which the Fourth Amendment applies
to containers and other parcels depends not at all upon whether
they are seized from an automobile.
We are not persuaded by the State's argument that, under
Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U. S. 42
(1970), if the police were entitled to seize the suitcase, then
they were entitled to search it. In Chambers,
upheld the warrantless search of an automobile stopped on the
highway by police who believed that its occupants had robbed a
gasoline station a short time before. The Court recognized that
"[a]rguably, because of the preference for a magistrate's
judgment, only the immobilization of the car should be permitted
until a search warrant is obtained. . . ."
at 399 U. S. 51
Nonetheless, the Court ruled that a warrantless search was
permissible, concluding that there was no constitutional difference
between the intrusion of seizing and holding the automobile until a
warrant could be obtained, on the one hand, and searching the
vehicle without a warrant, on the other.
We view, however, the seizure of a suitcase as quite different
from the seizure of an automobile. In Chambers,
Court had required seizure and holding of the vehicle, it would
have imposed a constitutional requirement upon police departments
of all sizes around the country to have available the people and
equipment necessary to transport impounded automobiles to some
central location until warrants could be secured. Moreover, once
seized automobiles were taken from the highway, the police would be
responsible for providing some appropriate location where they
could be kept, with due regard to the safety of the vehicles and
their contents, until a magistrate ruled on the application for a
warrant. Such a constitutional requirement therefore would have
imposed severe, even impossible, burdens on many police
Note, Warrantless Searches and Seizures
of Automobiles, 87 Harv.L.Rev. 835, 841-842 (1974). No comparable
burdens are likely to exist with respect to the seizure of personal
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER, with whom MR. JUSTICE STEVENS joins,
concurring in the judgment.
I concur in the Court's judgment but cannot join its
unnecessarily broad opinion, which seems to treat this case as if
it involved the "automobile" exception to the warrant requirement.
It is not such a case.
Because the police officers had probable cause to believe that
respondent's green suitcase contained marihuana before it was
placed in the trunk of the taxicab, their duty to obtain a search
warrant before opening it is clear under United States v.
Chadwick, 433 U. S. 1
The essence of our holding in Chadwick
is that there is a
legitimate expectation of privacy in the contents of a trunk or
suitcase accompanying or being carried by a person; that
expectation of privacy is not
Page 442 U. S. 767
diminished simply because the owner's arrest occurs in a public
place. Whether arrested in a hotel lobby, an airport, a railroad
terminal, or on a public street, as here, the owner has the right
to expect that the contents of his luggage will not, without his
consent, be exposed on demand of the police. If not carrying
contraband, many persons arrested in such circumstances might
choose to consent to a search of their luggage to obviate any delay
in securing their release. But even if wholly innocent, some
persons might well prefer not to have the contents of their luggage
exposed in a public place. They may stand on their right to privacy
and require a search warrant. The warrant requirement is not so
onerous as to command suspension of Fourth Amendment guarantees
once the receptacle involved is securely in the control of the
police, as it was here after Sanders' arrest.
The breadth of the Court's opinion and its repeated references
to the "automobile" from which respondent's suitcase was seized at
the time of his arrest, however, might lead the reader to believe
-- as the dissenters apparently do -- that this case involves the
"automobile" exception to the warrant requirement. See
at 442 U. S.
-765, and n. 14. It does not. Here, as in
it was the luggage being transported by
respondent at the time of the arrest, not the automobile in which
it was being carried, that was the suspected locus of the
contraband. The relationship between the automobile and the
contraband was purely coincidental, as in Chadwick.
fact that the suitcase was resting in the trunk of the automobile
at the time of respondent's arrest does not turn this into an
"automobile" exception case. The Court need say no more.
This case simply does not present the question of whether a
warrant is required before opening luggage when the police have
probable cause to believe contraband is located somewhere in the
vehicle, but when they do not know whether, for example, it is
inside a piece of luggage in the trunk, in the glove compartment,
or concealed in some part of the car's structure.
Page 442 U. S. 768
I am not sure whether that would be a stronger or weaker case
for requiring a warrant to search the suitcase when a warrantless
search of the automobile is otherwise permissible. But it seems to
me it would be better to await a case in which the question must be
The dissent complains that the Court does not adopt a "clear"
rule, presumably one capable of resolving future Fourth Amendment
litigation. That is not cause for lament, however desirable it
might be to fashion a universal prescription governing the myriad
Fourth Amendment cases that might arise. We are construing the
Constitution, not writing a statute or a manual for law enforcement
officers. My disagreement with the Court's opinion is very
different from that of the dissenters. Our institutional practice,
based on hard experience, generally has been to refrain from
deciding questions not presented by the facts of a case; there are
risks in formulating constitutional rules broader than required by
the facts to which they are applied. See Ashwander v. TVA,
297 U. S. 288
297 U. S.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST joins,
This case illustrates the difficulties and confusion that
United States v. Chadwick, 433 U. S.
(1977), has spawned and will continue to spawn. For
reasons stated in dissent in Chadwick, id.
at 433 U. S. 18
and 433 U. S. 24
continue to feel that that decision was wrong.
The Court today goes farther down the Chadwick
undermines the automobile exception, and, while purporting to
clarify the confusion occasioned by Chadwick,
my view, only greater difficulties for law enforcement officers,
for prosecutors, for those suspected of criminal activity, and, of
course, for the courts themselves. Still hanging in limbo, and
probably soon to be litigated, are the briefcase, the wallet, the
package, the paper bag, and every other kind of container.
Page 442 U. S. 769
I am unpersuaded by the Court's casual statement, ante
at 442 U. S. 762
n. 9, that Chadwick
and this case are factually similar
"in several critical respects." Even accepting Chadwick
good law, which I do not, this, for me, is a different case. In
the defendants were arrested, and a 200-pound,
double-locked footlocker was seized, as the locker was being loaded
into the open trunk of a stationary automobile. The relationship
between the footlocker and the vehicle was sufficiently attenuated
that the Government chose not to argue in this Court that the
automobile exception applied. 433 U.S. at 433 U. S. 11
Here, in contrast, the Little Rock police stopped a taxicab on a
busy highway at the height of late afternoon traffic. They had
probable cause to believe the taxi contained contraband narcotics.
They opened the trunk, and briefly examined the contents of a small
unlocked suitcase inside. The State has vigorously contended
throughout these proceedings that the warrantless search of the
trunk and the unlocked suitcase was constitutionally permissible
under the automobile exception. [Footnote 2/1
I fully agree. If "contraband goods concealed and illegally
transported in an automobile or other vehicle may be searched for
without a warrant," Carroll v. United States, 267 U.
, 267 U. S. 153
(1925), then, in my view, luggage and similar containers found in
an automobile may be searched for contraband without a warrant. The
luggage, like the automobile transporting it, is mobile. And the
expectation of privacy in a suitcase found in the car is probably
not significantly greater than the expectation of privacy in a
locked glove compartment or trunk.
To be sure, as the dissent acknowledged in Chadwick,
433 U.S. at 433 U. S. 19
impounding the luggage without searching it
Page 442 U. S. 770
would be a less intrusive alternative than searching it on the
spot. But this Court has not distinguished between the "lesser"
intrusion of a seizure and the "greater" intrusion of a search,
either with respect to automobiles, Chambers v. Maroney,
399 U. S. 42
399 U. S. 51
(1970), or with respect to persons subject to custodial arrest.
United States v. Robinson, 414 U.
, 414 U. S. 235
(1973). [Footnote 2/2
] And I see no
reason to impose such a distinction here. Given the significant
encroachment on privacy interests entailed by a seizure of personal
property, the additional intrusion of a search may well be regarded
as incidental. Moreover, the additional protection provided by a
search warrant will be minimal. Since the police, by hypothesis,
have probable cause to seize the property, we can assume that a
warrant will be routinely forthcoming in the overwhelming majority
of cases. Finally, the carving out of a special warrant requirement
for one type of personal property, but not for others, will impose
untoward costs on the criminal justice systems of this country in
terms of added delay and uncertainty. [Footnote 2/3
Page 442 U. S. 771
The impractical nature of the Court's line-drawing is brought
into focus if one places himself in the position of the policeman
confronting an automobile that properly has been stopped. In
approaching the vehicle and its occupants, the officer must divide
the world of personal property into three groups. If there is
probable cause to arrest the occupants, then, under Chimel v.
California, 395 U. S. 752
(1969), he may search objects within the occupants' immediate
control, with or without probable cause. If there is probable cause
to search the automobile itself, then, under Carroll
the entire interior area of the automobile may
be searched, with or without a warrant. But, under
and the present case, if any suitcase-like object
is found in the car outside the immediate control area of the
occupants, it cannot be searched, in the absence of exigent
circumstances, without a warrant.
The inherent opaqueness of these "principles," in terms of the
policies underlying the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the
confusion to be created for all concerned, are readily illustrated.
Suppose a portable luggage container rack is affixed to the top of
the vehicle. Is the arresting officer constitutionally able to open
this on the spot, on the theory that it is like the car's trunk, or
must he remove it and take it to the station for a warrant, on the
theory that it is like the 200-pound footlocker in
Or suppose there is
Page 442 U. S. 772
probable cause to arrest persons seated in the front seat of the
automobile, and a suitcase rests on the back seat. Is that suitcase
within the area of immediate control, such that the
rules do not apply? Or suppose the
arresting officer opens the car's trunk and finds that it contains
an array of containers -- an orange crate, a lunch bucket, an
attache case, a duffelbag, a cardboard box, a backpack, a totebag,
and a paper bag. Which of these may be searched immediately, and
which are so "personal" that they must be impounded for future
search only pursuant to a warrant? The problems of distinguishing
between "luggage" and "some integral part of the automobile,"
at 442 U. S. 763
between luggage that is within the "immediate control" of the
arrestee and luggage that is not; and between "personal luggage"
and other "containers and packages" such as those most curiously
442 U. S. 764
-765, n. 13, will be legion. The lines that
will be drawn will not make much sense in terms of the policies of
the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. And the heightened
possibilities for error will mean that many convictions will be
overturned, highly relevant evidence again will be excluded, and
guilty persons will be set free in return for little apparent gain
in precise and clearly understood constitutional analysis.
In my view, it would be better to adopt a clear-cut rule to the
effect that a warrant should not be required to seize and search
any personal property found in an automobile that may, in turn, be
seized and searched without a warrant pursuant to Carroll
and Chambers. Cf. United States v. Chadwick,
U.S. at 433 U. S. 21
and n. 3 (dissenting opinion). Such an approach would simplify the
constitutional law of criminal procedure without seriously
derogating from the values protected by the Fourth Amendment's
prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
Since respondent was not formally arrested until after the
suitcase was searched, the State does not argue that the suitcase
was examined as part of a search incident to custodial arrest.
Cf. United States v. Chadwick,
433 U.S. at 433 U. S. 23
n. 5 (dissenting opinion).
The Court stated in Chambers,
399 U.S. at 399 U. S.
"Arguably, because of the preference for a magistrate's
judgment, only the immobilization of the car should be permitted
until a search warrant is obtained; arguably, only the 'lesser'
intrusion is permissible until the magistrate authorizes the
'greater.' But which is the 'greater' and which the 'lesser'
intrusion is itself a debatable question, and the answer may depend
on a variety of circumstances. 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
The opinion concurring in the judgment would distinguish between
a case where there is probable cause to search the car and its
contents as a whole and a case where there is probable cause to
search a particular item of luggage within the car. Ante
at 442 U. S.
-768. The opinion suggests, without deciding, that
the automobile exception might apply in the former case, but not
the latter. Surely, however, the intrusion on privacy, and
consequently the need for the protection of the Warrant Clause, is,
if anything greater when the police search the entire interior area
of the car, including possibly several suitcases, than when they
confine their search to a single suitcase. Moreover, given the easy
transferability of articles to and from luggage once it is placed
in a vehicle, the police would be entitled to assume that, if
contraband was not found in the suspect suitcase, it would likely
be secreted somewhere else in the car. The possibility the opinion
concurring in the judgment would preserve for future decision thus
contemplates the following two-step ritual: first, the police would
take the targeted suitcase to the station for a search pursuant to
a warrant; then, if the contraband was not discovered in the
suitcase, they would return for a warrantless search of other
luggage and compartments of the car. It does not require the
adjudication of a future controversy to reject that result.