CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA
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CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA,
FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT
Police observed respondent Acevedo leave an apartment, known to contain marijuana, with a
brown paper bag the size of marijuana packages they had seen earlier. He placed the bag in his
car's trunk, and, as he drove away, they stopped the car, opened the trunk and the bag, and
found marijuana. Acevedo's motion to suppress the marijuana was denied, and he pleaded guilty
to possession of marijuana for sale. The California Court of Appeal held that the marijuana should
have been suppressed. Finding that the officers had probable cause to believe that the bag
contained drugs but lacked probable cause to suspect that the car, itself, otherwise contained
contraband, the court concluded that the case was controlled by United States v. Chadwick,
433 U.S. 1, which held that police could seize movable luggage or other closed containers, but
could not open them without a warrant, since, inter alia, a person has a heightened privacy
expectation in such containers.
Held: Police, in a search extending only to a container within an automobile, may search the
container without a warrant where they have probable cause to believe that it holds contraband or
evidence. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 -- which held that a warrantless search of
an automobile based upon probable cause to believe that the vehicle contained evidence of crime
in the light of an exigency arising out of the vehicle's likely disappearance did not contravene the
Fourth Amendment's Warrant Clause -- provides one rule to govern all automobile searches.
Sides of discussion:
(a) Separate ideas have permitted the warrantless search of an automobile to include a search
of closed containers found inside the car when there is probable cause to search the vehicle,
United States v. Ross, but prohibited the warrantless search of a closed container
located in a moving vehicle when there is probable cause to search only the container,
Arkansas v. Sanders.
(b) The doctrine of stare decisis does not prevent this Court from eliminating the warrant
requirement of Sanders, which was specifically undermined in U.S. v. Ross. The Chadwick-Sanders rule
affords minimal protection to privacy interests. Police, knowing that they may open a bag only if
they are searching the entire car, may search more extensively than they otherwise
would in order to establish the probable cause Ross requires United States v. Johns,
And they may seize a container and hold it until they obtain a search warrant or search it without a warrant
as a search incident to a lawful arrest. Moreover, the search of a paper bag intrudes far less on individual
privacy than does the incursion sanctioned in Carroll, where prohibition agents slashed a car's upholstery.
The Chadwick-Sanders rule also is the antithesis of a clear and unequivocal guideline and, thus, has
confused courts and police officers and impeded effective law enforcement.
(c) This holding neither extends the Carroll doctrine nor broadens the scope of permissible
automobile searches. In the instant case, the probable cause the police had to believe that the bag
in the car's trunk contained marijuana now allows a warrantless search of the bag, but the record
reveals no probable cause to search the entire vehicle. P. 579-580.
View Full Essay
Searches and seizures, United States v. Ross, United States v. Chadwick, Carroll v. United States, Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Arkansas v. Sanders, Search warrant, United States v. Johns, Probable cause, Search and seizure, California v. Acevedo, Searches incident to a lawful arrest
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