The Law of Arrest, Search, and Seizure: Police and the Constitution summary

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United States v. Ross (456 U.S. 798 [1982]), mentioned briefly in the chapter, cleared up some of the confusion surrounding automobile searches — at least for the time being. Much of this confusion stemmed from New York v. Belton (453 U.S. 454 [1981]) and Robbins v. California (453 U.S. 420 [1981]), both decided a year earlier. In Belton, a speeding automobile was pulled over. Marijuana that was in plain view was seized, the occupants of the auto were placed under arrest, and an arrest search was initiated. On the back seat of the car was Belton’s jacket, in which the officer found cocaine. The High Court upheld the search of the jacket as a valid search incident to arrest. In Robbins, a station wagon was pulled over because of its erratic movements. As the officer approached the vehicle, he smelled marijuana smoke. He patted down the defendant and found marijuana in his pocket. After putting the defendant in the patrol car, the officer searched the wagon’s recessed luggage compartment and found a tote bag containing 30 pounds of marijuana. The Supreme Court allowed suppression of the marijuana on the grounds that the search of the tote bag was not valid.
Given this decision, what was the confusing issue in Belton and Robbins? Basically, the confusion came from the Court’s attempt to preserve privacy for closed containers such as briefcases, luggage, and the like. In Belton, the cocaine was in a jacket pocket; in Robbins, it was in a closed container.
In Ross, a reliable informant told police that the defendant was selling narcotics that were kept in the trunk of his car. The car was later stopped, the driver was arrested, and the officers opened the trunk and found a closed paper bag that contained heroin. At police headquarters, another warrantless search of the trunk revealed a zippered pouch containing cash. Ross was convicted on the evidence found in the search. The Supreme Court ruled that the searches were valid. What was the effect of the Ross decision? It overturned Robbins, and thus waived the expectation of privacy for closed containers found by the police in legitimate warrantless searches of automobiles.
More recently, the Supreme Court ruled that the police can search a parked car for drugs, guns, or other evidence of a crime while arresting a driver or passengers nearby. In the case of Thornton v. United States (03-5165 [2004]), Virginia police in 2001 spotted a man driving a flashy gold Lincoln Town Car and decided to run the tag, which was discovered to be issued to a 1982 Chevrolet. Before the officers could pull him over to give him a ticket, Thornton pulled into a shopping center and got out of the vehicle. The officer then arrested Thornton, searched his pockets, found marijuana and crack-cocaine, and then searched his car and discovered a gun. The driver was charged with federal drug and firearms crimes. In denying the driver's motion to suppress the handgun as the fruit of an unconstitutional search, a federal district court concluded that the automobile search had been valid under Belton.

After the driver was convicted on all counts, he appealed, arguing that Belton was limited to situations where the officer initiated contact with an arrestee while the arrestee was still in the automobile. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (1) concluded that the search of the driver's automobile had been reasonable under Belton and (2) affirmed the convictions.

In the ruling, the Court held:
The Belton rule applied even when the officer first made contact with the arrestee after the arrestee had left the vehicle. So long as an arrestee was the sort of "recent occupant" of a vehicle such as the arrestee in the instant case, officers could search the vehicle incident to the arrest, as:

(1) In Belton, the court had placed no reliance on the fact that the officer in that case had ordered the occupants out of the vehicle or initiated contact with them while they remained within the vehicle.

(2) There was no basis to conclude that the span of the area generally within the arrestee's immediate control was to be determined by whether (a) the arrestee exited the vehicle at the officer's direction; or (b) the officer initiated contact with the arrestee while the arrestee remained in the vehicle.

(3) In all relevant aspects, the arrest of a suspect who was next to a vehicle presented identical concerns regarding officer safety and the destruction of evidence as did the arrest of a suspect who was inside the vehicle.

(4) In some circumstances it might be safer and more effective for officers to conceal their presence from a suspect until the suspect had left the vehicle.

(5) A rule applying Belton only when an officer initiated contact with a suspect would obfuscate the constitutional limits of a Belton search.

Clarifying Plain View
In Arizona v. Hicks (40 CrL 3320 [1987]), the court examined the scope of what constitutes plain view and what does not when law enforcement officers have lawfully entered a constitutionally protected area.
A bullet fired through the floor of James Hicks’s apartment injured a man on the floor below. Police entered the apartment to search for the shooter, for other victims, and for weapons, and there they seized three weapons and discovered a stocking-cap mask. While there, one of the policemen noticed two sets of expensive stereo components and, suspecting that they were stolen, read and recorded their serial numbers—moving some of them, including a turntable, to do so—and phoned in the numbers to headquarters.
Upon learning that the turntable had been taken in an armed robbery, the officer seized it immediately. Hicks was subsequently indicted for robbery, but the state trial court granted his motion to suppress the evidence that had been seized, and the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed. Relying upon a statement in Mincey v. Arizona (437 U.S. 385 [1987]), that a warrantless search must be “strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation,” the court of appeals held that the policeman’s obtaining the serial numbers violated the Fourth Amendment because it was unrelated to the shooting, the exigent circumstance that justified the initial entry and search. Both state courts rejected the contention that the policeman’s actions were justified under the plain view doctrine.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Hicks, as follows:
1. The policeman’s actions come within the purview of the Fourth Amendment. The mere recording of the serial numbers did not constitute a “seizure” since it did not meaningfully interfere with Hicks’s possessory interest in either the numbers or the stereo equipment. However, the moving of the equipment was a search separate and apart from the search that was the lawful objective of entering the apartment. The fact that the search uncovered nothing of great personal value to Hicks is irrelevant.

2. The plain view doctrine does not render the search reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

a. The policeman’s action directed to the stereo equipment was not ipso facto unreasonable simply because it was unrelated to the justification for entering the apartment. That lack of relationship always exists when the plain view doctrine applies. In saying that a warrantless search must be “strictly circumscribed by the exigencies which justify its initiation,” Mincey was simply addressing the scope of the primary search itself and was not overruling the plain view doctrine by implication.

b. However, the search was invalid because, as the State concedes, the policeman had only a “reasonable suspicion”—i.e., less than probable cause to believe—that the stereo equipment was stolen. Probable cause is required to invoke the plain view doctrine as it applies to seizures. It would be illogical to hold that an object is seizable on lesser grounds, during an unrelated search and seizure, than would have been needed to obtain a warrant for it if it had been known to be on the premises. Probable cause to believe the equipment was stolen was also necessary to support the search here, whether legal authority to move the equipment could be found only as the inevitable concomitant of the authority to seize it, or also as a consequence of some independent power to search objects in plain view.

3. The policeman’s action cannot be upheld on the ground that it was not a “full-blown search but was only a cursory inspection” that could be justified by reasonable suspicion instead of probable cause. A truly cursory inspection—one that involves merely looking at what is already exposed to view, without disturbing it—is not a search for Fourth Amendment purposes and therefore does not even require reasonable suspicion. This Court is unwilling to create a subcategory of “cursory searches” under the Fourth Amendment.
The “Stalking Horse” and the Plain View Doctrine

In the case before the United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit, United States v. Reyes (283 F.3d 446

[2000]), the justices once again examined the scope of what constitutes plain view and what does not when law enforcement officers have lawfully entered a constitutionally protected area. This time, the property was that of a probationer.

The defendant argued that evidence of marijuana plants being grown in his yard and in his home should have been suppressed. Defendant contended that U.S. probation officers conducted a warrantless search of his property, discovered the marijuana plants in his yard by unlawfully standing in a constitutionally protected curtilage area and acted as a "stalking horse" for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. [The term stalking horse refers to a “decoy.”] The district court had noted that the seizure of marijuana plants from defendant's property was proper because the probation officers were lawfully at his house as part of their duty to visit the parolee and monitor his behavior. The instant court affirmed, but found that the "stalking horse" defense theory is nonexistent since the objectives and duties of probation officers and law enforcement personnel are often parallel and frequently intertwined.

"Contraband that falls within the plain view of a probation officer who is justified [in] being in the place where the contraband is seen may properly be seized by the probation officer" if it is "immediately apparent that the item is contraband with respect to the supervisee." Committee on Criminal Law of the Judicial Conference of the United States, Model Search and Seizure Guidelines (1993), at VII, reprinted in Supervision of Federal Offenders, app. C, at 6; cf. United States v. Kiyuyung, 171 F.3d 78, 83 (2d Cir. 1999). ("Under the 'plain view' exception [to the warrant requirement], 'if police are lawfully in a position from which they view an object, if its incriminating character is immediately apparent, and if the officers have a lawful right of access to the object, they may seize it without a warrant.'" (quoting Minn. v. Dickerson, 508 U.S. 366, 375 (1993)). That is, "[an] item that is . . . observed in plain view may be seized if the probation officer has reasonable grounds to believe that the item is contraband or constitutes evidence of a violation of a condition of release." Model Search and Seizure Guidelines (1993), at VII, reprinted in Supervision of Federal Offenders, app. C, at 6.

Having established that the probation officers were lawfully standing in Reyes's driveway, the "plain view" doctrine applies. Here, the probation officers simply glanced around the yard and spotted the illicit marijuana—at which point they were lawfully authorized to seize the plants. Cf. Raines, 243 F.3d at 421 (finding marijuana plants were in plain view when observed by deputy sheriff proceeding to back of defendant's home to serve of civil process); Hammett, 236 F.3d at 1060-61 (finding marijuana plants were in plain view when observed by police officers circling home to locate occupants).

When Illinois v. Gates was addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1983, many constitutional scholars felt that the Court would deal with a long-awaited good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule. In its broadest sense, the exception suggested that if police were acting in good faith when they violated someone’s constitutional rights, then any evidence illegally seized should not be suppressed. However, the Court sidestepped the issue in Gates, leaving it for another term.

Testing the Good-Faith Exception
With the High Court’s ruling in U.S. v. Leon during mid-1984, a limited good-faith exception was adopted. It did not apply in all instances of good faith, only those in which the problem was a defective warrant. As such,

the limitation was essentially to the extent that had been indicated in the Senate’s Exclusionary Rule Limitation Act. One of the earliest tests of Leon in the state courts came in People v. Barbarick (37 CrL 2236 [1985]), addressed by the California Court of Appeals in 1985. In 1982, the defendant, Leo Allen Barbarick, was convicted of misdemeanor possession of cannabis and sentenced to six months in jail. He was released on his own recognizance (ROR) pending appeal upon the condition that he “submit of his person, automobile, garage, or home for the purpose of detection of narcotics, dangerous drugs, or marijuana by a probation officer or any other law enforcement officer.” The defendant stated that he accepted the condition of his release.

Subsequently, two police officers drove to the defendant’s residence to serve him with papers in a civil matter. As they drove up to the rear of the house and stopped, one officer observed the defendant looking out a window of the house and then heard a loud bang from the house. The officers parked and walked around to the front of the house. As they came around the corner, they saw the defendant rushing out of a garden-greenhouse area about 30 feet away. The defendant hurried past the officers into the house. A sprinkler system came on in the garden-greenhouse, and the defendant, appearing nervous, returned to where the officers were standing in the yard. The officers smelled the odor of burning marijuana coming from the house. While one of the officers served the defendant with the civil papers, the other, his suspicions aroused and knowing of the search condition, walked to the entrance of the garden-greenhouse. He observed numerous marijuana plants growing there amidst thick foliage. The defendant was arrested.
The trial court found that although the search condition of the ROR release was invalid, the officers had nevertheless conducted the search in good faith. On appeal, the California Supreme Court agreed, citing the lesson in Leon that the exclusionary rule should not be applied where its underlying rationale—deterrence—is absent.
One of the more recent tests came in 2004, when the Michigan Supreme Court adopted a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule in the case of People v. Goldston (No. 122364).

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, police learned that Glenn Goldston was posing as a fireman to collect money. A search warrant was later issued to search a given address. While searching the address, police discovered firefighter paraphernalia, a firearm, and marijuana. Goldston was charged with firearm and drug crimes. He filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the search warrant did not connect him to the place searched nor did it state when police had spotted Goldston collecting money. The trial court agreed that the warrant was not supported by probable cause. The appeals court denied the prosecution leave to appeal. The state supreme court reversed, finding the search to be permissible under a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

Good Faith Searches Under Invalid Statutes
Illinois v. Krull (40 CrL 3327 [1987]), mentioned only briefly in the textbook, addressed this question: Does the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule apply to evidence obtained as the result of a warrantless search conducted by police in objectively reasonable reliance upon a statute that authorizes warrantless administrative searches but is later held to violate the Fourth Amendment?
An Illinois statute, as it existed in 1981, required licensed motor vehicle and vehicular parts sellers to permit state officials to inspect certain required records. In 1981, pursuant to the statute, a police detective entered an automobile wrecking yard owned by Abert Krull and asked to see records of vehicle purchases. The detective was told that the records could not be located, but he was given a list of approximately five purchases. After receiving permission to look at the cars in the yard, the detective ascertained that three were stolen and that a fourth had had its identification number removed. He then seized the cars, and Krull was arrested and charged with various crimes. The state trial court granted Krull’s motion to suppress the evidence seized from the yard, agreeing with a federal court ruling, issued the day after the search, that the state statute violated the Fourth Amendment because it permitted officers unbridled discretion in their warrantless searches. The state supreme court affirmed, rejecting the prosecution’s argument that the seized evidence was admissible because the detective had acted in good-faith reliance on the statute in making the search.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State of Illinois, commenting as follows:
1. The Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule does not apply to evidence obtained by police who acted in objectively reasonable reliance upon a statute authorizing warrantless administrative searches.

a. Application of the exclusionary rule in these circumstances would have little deterrent effect on future police misconduct, which is the basic purpose of the rule.

b. Application of the exclusionary rule cannot be justified on the basis of deterring legislative misconduct. Police, not legislators, are the focus of the rule. Furthermore, there is no evidence to suggest that legislatures are inclined to ignore or subvert the Fourth Amendment.

c. The contention that the application of the exclusionary rule is required because large numbers of people are affected by a warrantless administrative search statute is not persuasive. Although the number of individuals affected may be considered in weighing the costs and benefits of applying the rule, the fact that many are affected will not require the rule’s application if such application will not have a meaningful deterrent effect.

d. The contention that the exception to the exclusionary rule recognized here will discourage criminal defendants from presenting meritorious Fourth Amendment claims is also not persuasive. Defendants will always be able to argue in a suppression motion that the officer’s reliance on the warrantless search statute was not objectively reasonable and therefore was not in good faith.

2. The detective’s reliance on the Illinois statute was objectively reasonable. Even assuming that the statute was unconstitutional because it vested state officials with too much discretion, this constitutional defect would not have been obvious to a police officer acting in good faith.

Although the meaning of the exclusionary rule is unquestionably clear—that illegally seized evidence is inadmissible at trial— nevertheless issues have been brought forth in the courts as to its scope and precise meaning.
For example, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to clarify the reach of the exclusionary rule in the 1999 case of Pryor v. U.S. (98-7046 [1999]). In this case, a Florida woman argued that the exclusionary rule should apply when a convicted criminal is sentenced.

Alishia Pryor pleaded guilty in 1997 to possessing and intending to distribute the 22.4 grams of crack- cocaine police found in her car while arresting her. Police later searched Ms. Pryor's home, where they found another 391.3 grams of the drug, although authorities conceded that the court warrant police used to search her home was defective.

As part of a plea bargain, prosecutors agreed not to use as evidence any of the cocaine taken from Pryor's home. However, that evidence was taken into account in Pryor’s sentencing, and she was given 11 years 4 months in prison. Her self-authored appeal argued that federal sentencing guidelines would have reduced her prison term to about half that time if her sentence had been based only on the cocaine found in her car. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld Pryor's prison sentence for her crack- cocaine conviction.
In California, the First District Court of Appeals overruled a superior court judge in 1998, holding that police officers who saw the door to a house open without anyone appearing to be home, and who found the residence in a "shambles," were entitled to enter the premises without a warrant. Furthermore, the evidence gathered at the premises was allowed to be presented in the trial, thus reinstating charges of possession and manufacturing of cocaine for sale against the occupant. The case is People v. Ray (A077757 [1998]).
The police had been called to the home on Christmas afternoon, 1996, after a neighbor reported the unusual condition of the house. At the suppression hearing, two officers testified that they knocked several times without a response and became concerned that the messy conditions inside might indicate a burglary.

The officers said they found cocaine and money in plain view. They then left the residence to report their findings to their supervisor. Other officers later searched the premises pursuant to a warrant and seized the evidence, which the trial judge later ordered suppressed.

While the ruling justice called the law "equivocal" on whether or not an officer may enter an open and unoccupied home on the basis of reasonable suspicion, she looked to the exclusionary rule precedence set by the Supreme Court cases in upholding limited warrantless searches of residences in various circumstances.

The initial, warrantless entry into the home was limited in scope and duration, she stated, involving only plain view observation and no opening of interior doors or containers or damage to property. Comparing the police’s behavior in the case to a protective sweep following arrest, she concluded that the governmental interest in public safety outweighed any interest the defendant might have in avoiding the limited "degree of intrusion" caused by the entry.


There are many important Fourth Amendment cases discussed in Chapter 8 of the textbook. One of the best ways to have the students fully understand their meaning is to pick out the more interesting ones, such as Mapp v. Ohio, and have your students read the full opinion. Then break the class into two groups — one group to represent the prosecution, the other group to represent the defense. Have them argue the case.

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