California v. Rooney, 483 U.S. 307 (1987)
U.S. Supreme CourtCalifornia v. Rooney, 483 U.S. 307 (1987)
California v. Rooney
Argued March 25, 1987
Decided June 23, 1987
483 U.S. 307
A warrant to search a particular apartment in a multi-unit building was issued on the basis of a police officer's affidavit declaring, inter alia, that, through a search of the communal trash bin in the building's basement, the police had retrieved a bag containing evidence indicating that respondent was conducting an illegal bookmaking operation in the apartment. After the search of the apartment yielded incriminating evidence, respondent was arrested and charged with a number of felonies. Subsequently, a Magistrate granted respondent's motion to quash the warrant, ruling that the use of the evidence obtained from the warrantless search of the trash bin to support the search warrant for the apartment violated respondent's Fourth Amendment rights, and that the other supporting evidence was insufficient to establish probable cause. The California Superior Court agreed, and dismissed the charges. However, the State Court of Appeal reversed, concluding that, although the evidence found in the trash bin could not be used to support the warrant, there was sufficient other evidence to establish probable cause. After the State Supreme Court denied both petitioner's and respondent's petitions for review, the State sought review in this Court, arguing that the California courts had erred in stating that the search of the trash was unconstitutional.
Held: The writ of certiorari previously granted by this Court is dismissed as improvidently granted, since the Court's review of the question on which the writ was granted -- whether respondent retained an expectation of privacy in the bag that he placed in the communal trash bin -- would be premature in that that issue has never been the subject of an actual state court judgment, and is not properly presented in this case. This Court reviews judgments, not statements in opinions. Here, since the search warrant which was the sole focus of the litigation was deemed valid, the judgment of the Court of Appeal was entirely in the State's favor, and the fact that that court fortuitously addressed the trash bin issue in a way that may have been adverse to the State's long-term interests does not allow the State to claim status as a losing party for purposes of this Court's review. If the case comes to trial and the State is barred from introducing the trash bin evidence because the Court of Appeal's decision constitutes the law of the case, the State will still have the
opportunity to appeal that order, and this Court will then have the chance to review a state court judgment on which the State Supreme Court has passed or declined review in a case that properly raises the issue.