New York v. Burger,
Annotate this Case
482 U.S. 691 (1987)
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U.S. Supreme Court
New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691 (1987)
New York v. Burger
Argued February 23, 1987
Decided June 19, 1987
482 U.S. 691
Respondent junkyard owner's business consists, in part, of dismantling automobiles and selling their parts. Pursuant to a New York statute authorizing warrantless inspections of automobile junkyards, police officers entered his junkyard and asked to see his license and records as to automobiles and vehicle parts in his possession. He replied that he did not have such documents, which are required by the statute. After announcing their intention to conduct an inspection of the junkyard pursuant to the statute, the officers, without objection by respondent, conducted the inspection and discovered stolen vehicles and parts. Respondent, who was charged with possession of stolen property and unregistered operation as a vehicle dismantler, moved in state court to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the inspection, primarily on the ground that the administrative inspection statute was unconstitutional. The court denied the motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed. The New York Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the statute violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.
1. A business owner's expectation of privacy in commercial property is attenuated with respect to commercial property employed in a "closely regulated" industry. Where the owner's privacy interests are weakened and the government interests in regulating particular businesses are concomitantly heightened, a warrantless inspection of commercial premises, if it meets certain criteria, is reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 482 U. S. 699-703.
2. Searches made pursuant to the New York statute fall within the exception to the warrant requirement for administrative inspections of "closely regulated" businesses. Pp. 482 U. S. 703-712.
(a) The nature of the statute establishes that the operation of a junkyard, part of which is devoted to vehicle dismantling, is a "closely regulated" business. Although the duration of a particular regulatory scheme has some relevancy, and New York's scheme regulating vehicle dismantlers can be said to be of fairly recent vintage, nevertheless, because widespread use of the automobile is relatively new, automobile junkyards and vehicle dismantlers have not been in existence very long, and thus do not have an ancient history of government oversight.
Moreover, the automobile junkyard business is simply a new branch of an industry -- general junkyards and secondhand shops -- that has existed, and has been closely regulated in New York, for many years. Pp. 482 U. S. 703-707.
(b) New York's regulatory scheme satisfies the criteria necessary to make reasonable the warrantless inspections conducted pursuant to the inspection statute. First, the State has a substantial interest in regulating the vehicle-dismantling and automobile junkyard industry because motor vehicle theft has increased in the State and because the problem of theft is associated with such industry. Second, regulation of the industry reasonably serves the State's substantial interest in eradicating automobile theft, and warrantless administrative inspections pursuant to the statute are necessary to further the regulatory scheme. Third, the statute provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant. It informs a business operator that regular inspections will be made, and also sets forth the scope of the inspection, notifying him as to how to comply with the statute and as to who is authorized to conduct an inspection. Moreover, the "time, place, and scope" of the inspection is limited to impose appropriate restraints upon the inspecting officers' discretion. Pp. 482 U. S. 708-712.
3. The New York inspection statute does not violate the Fourth Amendment on the ground that it was designed simply to give the police an expedient means of enforcing penal sanctions for possession of stolen property. A State can address a major social problem both by way of an administrative scheme -- setting forth rules to guide an operator's conduct of its business and allowing government officials to ensure that such rules are followed -- and through penal sanctions. Cf. United States v. Biswell, 406 U. S. 311. New York's statute was designed to contribute to the regulatory goals of ensuring that vehicle dismantlers are legitimate businesspersons and that stolen vehicles and vehicle parts passing through automobile junkyards can be identified. Nor is the administrative scheme unconstitutional simply because, in the course of enforcing it, an inspecting officer may discover evidence of crimes, besides violations of the scheme itself. Moreover, there is no constitutional significance in the fact that police officers, rather than "administrative" agents, are permitted to conduct the administrative inspection. So long as a regulatory scheme is properly administrative, it is not rendered illegal by the fact that the inspecting officer has the power to arrest individuals for violations other than those created by the scheme itself. Pp. 482 U. S. 712-718.
67 N.Y.2d 338, 493 N.E.2d 926, reversed and remanded.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, STEVENS, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, and in all but Part III of which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 482 U. S. 718.