Michigan v. Long,
463 U.S. 1032 (1983)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032 (1983)

Michigan v. Long

No. 82-256

Argued February 23, 1983

Decided July 6, 1983

463 U.S. 1032


Two police officers, patrolling in a rural area at night, observed a car traveling erratically and at excessive speed. When the car swerved into a ditch, the officers stopped to investigate and were met by respondent, the only occupant of the car, at the rear of the car. Respondent, who "appeared to be under the influence of something," did not respond to initial requests to produce his license and registration, and when he began walking toward the open door of the car, apparently to obtain the registration, the officers followed him and saw a hunting knife on the floorboard of the driver's side of the car. The officers then stopped respondent and subjected him to a patdown search, which revealed no weapons. One of the officers shined his flashlight into the car, saw something protruding from under the armrest on the front seat, and, upon lifting the armrest, saw an open pouch that contained what appeared to be marihuana. Respondent was then arrested for possession of marihuana. A further search of the car's interior revealed no more contraband, but the officers decided to impound the vehicle, and more marihuana was found in the trunk. The Michigan state trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress the marihuana taken from both the car's interior and its trunk, and he was convicted of possession of marihuana. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the search of the passenger compartment was valid as a protective search under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, and that the search of the trunk was valid as an inventory search under South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U. S. 364. However, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed, holding that Terry did not justify the passenger compartment search, and that the marihuana found in the trunk was the "fruit" of the illegal search of the car's interior.


1. This Court does not lack jurisdiction to decide the case on the asserted ground that the decision below rests on an adequate and independent state ground. Because of respect for the independence of state courts and the need to avoid rendering advisory opinions, this Court, in determining whether state court references to state law constitute adequate and independent state grounds, will no longer look beyond the opinion under review, or require state courts to reconsider cases to clarify the grounds of their decisions. Accordingly, when a state court decision fairly appears to rest primarily on federal law, or to be interwoven

Page 463 U. S. 1033

with federal law, and when the adequacy and independence of any possible state law ground is not clear from the face of the opinion, this Court will accept as the most reasonable explanation that the state court decided the case the way it did because it believed that federal law required it to do so. If the state court decision indicates clearly and expressly that it is alternatively based on bona fide separate, adequate, and independent state grounds, this Court will not undertake to review the decision. In this case, apart from two citations to the State Constitution, the court below relied exclusively on its understanding of Terry and other federal cases. Even if it is accepted that the Michigan Constitution has been interpreted to provide independent protection for certain rights also secured under the Fourth Amendment, it fairly appears that the Michigan Supreme Court rested its decision primarily on federal law. Pp. 463 U. S. 1037-1044.

2. The protective search of the passenger compartment of respondent's car was reasonable under the principles articulated in Terry and other decisions of this Court. Although Terry involved the stop and subsequent patdown search for weapons of a person suspected of criminal activity, it did not restrict the preventive search to the person of the detained suspect. Protection of police and others can justify protective searches when police have a reasonable belief that the suspect poses a danger. Roadside encounters between police and suspects are especially hazardous, and danger may arise from the possible presence of weapons in the area surrounding a suspect. Thus, the search of the passenger compartment of an automobile, limited to those areas in which a weapon may be placed or hidden, is permissible if the police officer possesses a reasonable belief based on specific and articulable facts which, taken together with the rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the officer to believe that the suspect is dangerous and the suspect may gain immediate control of weapons. If, while conducting a legitimate Terry search of an automobile's interior, the officer discovers contraband other than weapons, he cannot be required to ignore the contraband, and the Fourth Amendment does not require its suppression in such circumstances. The circumstances of this case justified the officers in their reasonable belief that respondent posed a danger if he were permitted to reenter his vehicle. Nor did they act unreasonably in taking preventive measures to ensure that there were no other weapons within respondent's immediate grasp before permitting him to reenter his automobile. The fact that respondent was under the officers' control during the investigative stop does not render unreasonable their belief that he could injure them. Pp. 463 U. S. 1045-1052.

3. Because the Michigan Supreme Court suppressed the marihuana taken from the trunk as a fruit of what it erroneously held was an illegal

Page 463 U. S. 1034

search of the car's interior, the case is remanded to enable it to determine whether the trunk search was permissible under Opperman, supra, or other decisions of this Court. P. 463 U. S. 1053.

413 Mich. 461, 320 N.W.2d 866, reversed and remanded.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined, and in Parts I, III, IV, and V of which BLACKMUN, J., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 463 U. S. 1054. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 463 U. S. 1054. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 463 U. S. 1065.

Primary Holding

State court decisions that appear to be determined on largely federal grounds and lack a separate, adequate state ground for resolution may be reviewed by the Supreme Court because it appears that the state court based its reasoning on federal law. If the state court states in its decision that it resolved the case on separate state grounds, however, the decision is not subject to review by the Supreme Court.


The Michigan Supreme Court reversed Long's conviction for possession of marijuana on the basis that the search of his vehicle was impermissible under the federal and state constitutions. When the state attempted to appeal this decision, Long argued that the U.S. Supreme Court lacked jurisdiction because the state Supreme Court had based its ruling on an adequate and independent state ground.



  • Sandra Day O'Connor (Author)
  • Warren Earl Burger
  • Byron Raymond White
  • Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr.
  • William Hubbs Rehnquist

The decision of the state court was based almost entirely on federal law, with the exception of two citations to the State Constitution. Jurisdiction thus is proper in the U.S. Supreme Court, even though it is important to respect the independence of state courts and refrain from issuing advisory opinions. A determination of whether jurisdiction is proper should be based only on the state court opinion under review, and that court may not be asked to clarify its reasoning by reconsidering the case.

Concurrence/Dissent In Part

  • Harry Andrew Blackmun (Author)

There should be no presumption of jurisdiction over cases that are appealed from state courts, which would create a greater potential for improper advisory opinions.


  • John Paul Stevens (Author)

The state law ground suffices as a basis for the judgment, but it is unclear whether it can be separated from the state court's interpretation of federal law. There are three methods that would be more effective than the current approach, which is to presume that the state grounds are not independent unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. The Supreme Court could ask the state court directly, infer what it might have meant by considering all possible sources of state law, or presume that the adequate state grounds are independent unless there is clear evidence to the contrary. It is reasonable to discard the first approach for reasons of efficiency and the second approach as too substantial an expenditure of Supreme Court resources. But the third approach is more appropriate than the current presumption, and this is the approach that traditionally has been used. A presumption against jurisdiction is wiser than a presumption in favor of federal jurisdiction, since the role of the Supreme Court should be focused on hearing cases by citizens seeking to assert their federal rights. The Supreme Court should be reluctant to hear appeals of cases in which states are seeking to reverse judgments in their own courts in favor of their citizens.


  • William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (Author)
  • Thurgood Marshall

Case Commentary

In some situations that are particularly unclear, the federal court can remand the case to the state court that decided it with a request for an explanation of its grounds for the decision. This is extremely inefficient, however, and can delay resolution of a matter in a way that may prejudice at least one party.

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