MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We review the judgment of the Supreme Court of South Dakota, holding that local police violated the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, as applicable to the States under the Fourteenth Amendment, when they conducted a routine inventory search of an automobile lawfully impounded by police for violations of municipal parking ordinances.
Local ordinances prohibit parking in certain areas of downtown Vermillion, S. D., between the hours of 2 a. m. and 6 a. m. During the early morning hours of December 10, 1973, a Vermillion police officer observed respondent's unoccupied vehicle illegally parked in the restricted zone. At approximately 3 a. m., the officer issued an overtime parking ticket and placed it on the car's windshield. The citation warned:
At approximately 10 o'clock on the same morning, another
From outside the car at the impound lot, a police officer observed a watch on the dashboard and other items of personal property located on the back seat and back floorboard. At the officer's direction, the car door was then unlocked and, using a standard inventory form pursuant to standard police procedures, the officer inventoried the contents of the car, including the contents of the glove compartment, which was unlocked. There he found marihuana contained in a plastic bag. All items, including the contraband, were removed to the police department for safekeeping.
Respondent was subsequently arrested on charges of possession of marihuana. His motion to suppress the evidence yielded by the inventory search was denied; he was convicted after a jury trial and sentenced to a fine of $100 and 14 days' incarceration in the county jail. On appeal, the Supreme Court of South Dakota reversed
This Court has traditionally drawn a distinction between automobiles and homes or offices in relation to the Fourth Amendment. Although automobiles are "effects" and thus within the reach of the Fourth Amendment, Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439 (1973), warrantless examinations of automobiles have been upheld in circumstances in which a search of a home or office would not. Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583, 589 (1974); Cady v. Dombrowski, supra, at 439-440; Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 48 (1970).
The reason for this well-settled distinction is twofold. First, the inherent mobility of automobiles creates circumstances of such exigency that, as a practical necessity, rigorous enforcement of the warrant requirement is impossible. Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 153-154 (1925); Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 459-460 (1971). But the Court has also upheld warrantless searches where no immediate danger was presented that the car would be removed from the jurisdiction. Chambers v. Maroney, supra, at 51-52; Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58 (1967). Besides the element of mobility, less rigorous warrant requirements govern because the expectation of privacy with respect to one's automobile is significantly less than that relating to one's home or office.
The expectation of privacy as to automobiles in further diminished by the obviously public nature of automobile travel. Only two Terms ago, the Court noted:
In the interests of public safety and as part of what the Court has called "community caretaking functions," Cady v. Dombrowski, supra, at 441, automobiles are frequently taken into police custody. Vehicle accidents present one such occasion. To permit the uninterrupted flow of traffic and in some circumstances to preserve evidence, disabled or damaged vehicles will often be removed from the highways or streets at the behest of police engaged solely in caretaking and traffic-control activities.
When vehicles are impounded, local police departments generally follow a routine practice of securing and inventorying the automobiles' contents. These procedures developed in response to three distinct needs: the protection of the owner's property while it remains in police custody, United States v. Mitchell, 458 F.2d 960, 961 (CA9 1972); the protection of the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property, United States v. Kelehar, 470 F.2d 176, 178 (CA5 1972); and the protection of the police from potential danger, Cooper v. California, supra, at 61-62. The practice has been viewed as essential to respond to incidents of theft or vandalism. See Cabbler v. Commonwealth, 212 Va. 520, 522, 184 S.E.2d 781, 782 (1971), cert. denied, 405 U.S. 1073 (1972); Warrix v. State, 50 Wis.2d 368, 376, 184 N.W.2d 189, 194 (1971). In addition, police frequently attempt to determine whether a vehicle has been stolen and thereafter abandoned.
These caretaking procedures have almost uniformly been upheld by the state courts, which by virtue of the localized nature of traffic regulation have had considerable occasion to deal with the issue.
The majority of the Federal Courts of Appeals have likewise sustained inventory procedures as reasonable police intrusions. As Judge Wisdom has observed:
The decisions of this Court point unmistakably to the conclusion reached by both federal and state courts that inventories pursuant to standard police procedures are reasonable. In the first such case, Mr. Justice Black made plain the nature of the inquiry before us:
And, in his last writing on the Fourth Amendment, Mr. Justice Black said:
In applying the reasonableness standard adopted by the Framers, this Court has consistently sustained police intrusions into automobiles impounded or otherwise in lawful police custody where the process is aimed at securing or protecting the car and its contents. In Cooper v. California, supra, the Court upheld the inventory of a car impounded under the authority of a state forfeiture statute. Even though the inventory was conducted in a distinctly criminal setting
Finally, in Cady v. Dombrowski, supra, the Court upheld a warrantless search of an automobile towed to a private garage even though no probable cause existed to believe that the vehicle contained fruits of a crime. The sole justification for the warrantless incursion was that it was incident to the caretaking function of the local police to protect the community's safety. Indeed, the protective search was instituted solely because local police "were under the impression" that the incapacitated driver, a Chicago police officer, was required to carry his service revolver at all times; the police had reasonable grounds to believe a weapon might be in the car, and thus available to vandals. 413 U. S., at 436. The Court carefully noted that the protective search was
The holdings in Cooper, Harris, and Cady point the way to the correct resolution of this case. None of the three cases, of course, involves the precise situation presented here; but, as in all Fourth Amendment cases, we are obliged to look to all the facts and circumstances of this case in light of the principles set forth in these prior decisions.
The Vermillion police were indisputably engaged in a caretaking search of a lawfully impounded automobile. Cf. United States v. Lawson, 487 F.2d 468, 471 (CA8 1973). The inventory was conducted only after the car had been impounded for multiple parking violations. The owner, having left his car illegally parked for an extended period, and thus subject to impoundment, was not present to make other arrangements for the safekeeping of his belongings. The inventory itself was prompted by the presence in plain view of a number of
On this record we conclude that in following standard police procedures, prevailing throughout the country and approved by the overwhelming majority of courts, the conduct of the police was not "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment.
The judgment of the South Dakota Supreme Court is therefore reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL, concurring.
While I join the opinion of the Court, I add this opinion to express additional views as to why the search conducted in this case is valid under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. This inquiry involves two distinct questions: (i) whether routine inventory searches are impermissible, and (ii) if not, whether they must be conducted pursuant to a warrant.
The central purpose of the Fourth Amendment is to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions by government officials. See, e. g., United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975); Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 528 (1967). None of our prior decisions is dispositive of the issue whether the Amendment permits routine inventory "searches"
Except in rare cases, there is little danger associated with impounding unsearched automobiles. But the occasional danger that may exist cannot be discounted entirely. See Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58, 61-62 (1967). The harmful consequences in those rare cases may be great, and there does not appear to be any effective way of identifying in advance those circumstances or classes of automobile impoundments which represent a greater risk. Society also has an important interest in minimizing the number of false claims filed against police since they may diminish the community's respect for law enforcement generally and lower department morale, thereby impairing the effectiveness of the police.
The protection of the owner's property is a significant interest for both the policeman and the citizen. It is argued that an inventory is not necessary since locked doors and rolled-up windows afford the same protection that the contents of a parked automobile normally enjoy.
Against these interests must be weighed the citizen's interest in the privacy of the contents of his automobile. Although the expectation of privacy in an automobile is significantly less than the traditional expectation of privacy associated with the home, United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, post, at 561-562; United States v. Ortiz, supra, at 896 n. 2; see Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583, 590-591 (1974) (plurality opinion), the unrestrained search
I agree with the Court that the Constitution permits routine inventory searches, and turn next to the question whether they must be conducted pursuant to a warrant.
While the Fourth Amendment speaks broadly in terms of "unreasonable searches and seizures,"
Although the Court has validated warrantless searches of automobiles in circumstances that would not justify a search of a home or office, Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433 (1973); Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970); Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925), these decisions establish no general "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement. See Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364 (1964). Rather, they demonstrate that " `for the purposes of the Fourth Amendment there is a constitutional difference between houses and cars,' " Cady v. Dombrowski, supra, at 439, quoting Chambers v. Maroney, supra, at 52, a difference that may in some cases justify a warrantless search.
The routine inventory search under consideration in this case does not fall within any of the established exceptions to the warrant requirement.
A related purpose of the warrant requirement is to prevent hindsight from affecting the evaluation of the reasonableness of a search. See United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, post, at 565; cf. United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 455 n. 22 (1976) (MARSHALL, J., dissenting). In the case of an inventory search conducted in accordance with standard police department procedures, there is no significant danger of hindsight justification. The absence of a warrant will not impair the effectiveness of post-search review of the reasonableness of a particular inventory search.
Warrants also have been required outside the context of a criminal investigation. In Camara v. Municipal Court, the Court held that, absent consent, a warrant was necessary to conduct an areawide building code inspection,
In the inventory search context these concerns are absent. The owner or prior occupant of the automobile is not present, nor, in many cases, is there any real likelihood that he could be located within a reasonable period of time. More importantly, no significant discretion is placed in the hands of the individual officer: he usually has no choice as to the subject of the search or its scope.
In sum, I agree with the Court that the routine inventory search in this case is constitutional.
MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN and MR. JUSTICE STEWART join, dissenting.
The Court today holds that the Fourth Amendment permits a routine police inventory search of the closed
As MR. JUSTICE POWELL recognizes, the requirement of a warrant aside, resolution of the question whether an inventory search of closed compartments inside a locked automobile can ever be justified as a constitutionally "reasonable" search
To begin with, the Court appears to suggest by reference to a "diminished" expectation of privacy, ante, at 368, that a person's constitutional interest in protecting the integrity of closed compartments of his locked automobile may routinely be sacrificed to governmental interests requiring interference with that privacy that are less compelling than would be necessary to justify a search of similar scope of the person's home or office. This has never been the law. The Court correctly observes that some prior cases have drawn distinctions between automobiles and homes or offices in Fourth Amendment cases; but even as the Court's discussion makes clear, the reasons for distinction in those cases are not present here. Thus, Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970), and Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925), permitted certain probable-cause searches to be carried out without warrants in view of the exigencies created by the mobility of automobiles, but both decisions reaffirmed that the standard of probable cause necessary to authorize such a search was no less than the standard applicable to search of a home or office. Chambers, supra, at 51; Carroll, supra, at 155-156.
This suggestion is flagrantly misleading, however, because the record of this case explicitly belies any relevance of the last two concerns. In any event it is my view that none of these "needs," separately or together, can suffice to justify the inventory search procedure approved by the Court.
First, this search cannot be justified in any way as a safety measure, for—though the Court ignores it—the sole purpose given by the State for the Vermillion police's inventory procedure was to secure valuables, Record 75, 98. Nor is there any indication that the officer's search in this case was tailored in any way to safety concerns, or that ordinarily it is so circumscribed. Even aside from the actual basis for the police practice in this case, however, I do not believe that any blanket safety argument could justify a program of routine
Second, the Court suggests that the search for valuables in the closed glove compartment might be justified as a measure to protect the police against lost property claims. Again, this suggestion is belied by the record, since—although the Court declines to discuss it—the South Dakota Supreme Court's interpretation of state law explicitly absolves the police, as "gratuitous depositors," from any obligation beyond inventorying objects in plain view and locking the car. 89 S. D. —, —, 228 N.W.2d 152, 159 (1975).
Finally, the Court suggests that the public interest in protecting valuables that may be found inside a closed compartment of an impounded car may justify the inventory procedure. I recognize the genuineness of this governmental interest in protecting property from pilferage. But even if I assume that the posting of a guard would be fiscally impossible as an alternative means to
It is at least clear that any owner might prohibit the police from executing a protective search of his impounded car, since by hypothesis the inventory is conducted for the owner's benefit. Moreover, it is obvious that not everyone whose car is impounded would want it to be searched. Respondent himself proves this; but
Such a requirement of "specificity in the information upon which police action is predicated is the central teaching of this Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence," id., at 21 n. 18, for "[t]he basic purpose of this
Because the record in this case shows that the procedures followed by the Vermillion police in searching respondent's car fall far short of these standards, in my view the search was impermissible and its fruits must be suppressed. First, so far as the record shows, the police in this case had no reason to believe that the glove compartment of the impounded car contained particular property of any substantial value. Moreover, the owner had apparently thought it adequate to protect whatever he left in the car overnight on the street in a business area simply to lock the car, and there is nothing in the record to show that the impoundment
The Court's result in this case elevates the conservation of property interests—indeed mere possibilities of property interests—above the privacy and security interests
Statement of MR. JUSTICE WHITE.
Although I do not subscribe to all of my Brother MARSHALL'S dissenting opinion, particularly some aspects of his discussion concerning the necessity for obtaining the consent of the car owner, I agree with most of his analysis and conclusions and consequently dissent from the judgment of the Court.
"Q. And why did you inventory this car?
"A. Mainly for safekeeping, because we have had a lot of trouble in the past of people getting into the impound lot and breaking into cars and stealing stuff out of them.
"Q. Do you know whether the vehicles that were broken into . . . were locked or unlocked?
"A. Both of them were locked, they would be locked." Record 74. In describing the impound lot, the officer stated:
"A. It's the old county highway yard. It has a wooden fence partially around part of it, and kind of a dilapidated wire fence, a makeshift fence." Id., at 73.
"The contact with vehicles by federal law enforcement officers usually, if not always, involves the detection or investigation of crimes unrelated to the operation of a vehicle." Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 440 (1973).
In view of the noncriminal context of inventory searches, and the inapplicability in such a setting of the requirement of probable cause, courts have held—and quite correctly—that search warrants are not required, linked as the warrant requirement textually is to the probable-cause concept. We have frequently observed that the warrant requirement assures that legal inferences and conclusions as to probable cause will be drawn by a neutral magistrate unrelated to the criminal investigative-enforcement process. With respect to noninvestigative police inventories of automobiles lawfully within governmental custody, however, the policies underlying the warrant requirement, to which MR. JUSTICE POWELL refers, are inapplicable.
The "consent" theory advanced by the dissent rests on the assumption that the inventory is exclusively for the protection of the car owner. It is not. The protection of the municipality and public officers from claims of lost or stolen property and the protection of the public from vandals who might find a firearm, Cady v. Dombrowski, or as here, contraband drugs, are also crucial.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Contrary to the Court's assertion, however, ante, at 375-376, the search of respondent's car was not in any way "prompted by the presence in plain view of a number of valuables inside the car." In fact, the record plainly states that every vehicle taken to the city impound lot was inventoried, Record 33, 74, 75, and that as a matter of "standard procedure," "every inventory search" would involve entry into the car's closed glove compartment. Id., at 43, 44. See also Tr. of Oral Arg. 7. In any case, as MR. JUSTICE POWELL recognizes, ante, at 377-378, n. 2, entry to remove plain-view articles from the car could not justify a further search into the car's closed areas. Cf. Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752, 763, 764-768 (1969). Despite the Court's confusion on this point—further reflected by its discussion of Mozzetti v. Superior Court, 4 Cal.3d 699, 484 P.2d 84 (1971), ante, at 371, and its reliance on state and lower federal-court cases approving nothing more than inventorying of plain-view items, e. g., Barker v. Johnson, 484 F.2d 941 (CA6 1973); United States v. Mitchell, 458 F.2d 960 (CA9 1972); United States v. Fuller, 277 F.Supp. 97 (DC 1967), conviction aff'd, 139 U. S. App. D. C. 375, 433 F.2d 533 (1970); State v. Tully, 166 Conn. 126, 348 A.2d 603 (1974); State v. Achter, 512 S.W.2d 894 (Mo. Ct. App. 1974); State v. All, 17 N.C. App. 284, 193 S.E.2d 770, cert. denied, 414 U.S. 866 (1973)—I must conclude that the Court's holding also permits the intrusion into a car and its console even in the absence of articles in plain view.
MR. JUSTICE POWELL observes, ante, at 380, and n. 7, that the police would not be justified in sifting through papers secured under the procedure employed here. I agree with this, and I note that the Court's opinion does not authorize the inspection of suitcases, boxes, or other containers which might themselves be sealed, removed, and secured without further intrusion. See, e. g., United States v. Lawson, 487 F.2d 468 (CA8 1973); State v. McDougal, 68 Wis.2d 399, 228 N.W.2d 671 (1975); Mozzetti v. Superior Court, supra. But this limitation does not remedy the Fourth Amendment intrusion when the simple inventorying of closed areas discloses tokens, literature, medicines, or other things which on their face may "reveal much about a person's activities, associations, and beliefs," California Bankers Assn. v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21, 78-79 (1974) (POWELL, J., concurring).
The Court suggests a further "crucial" justification for the search in this case: "protection of the public from vandals who might find a firearm, Cady v. Dombrowski, [413 U.S. 433 (1973)], or as here, contraband drugs" (emphasis added). Ante, at 376 n. 10. This rationale, too, is absolutely without support in this record. There is simply no indication the police were looking for dangerous items. Indeed, even though the police found shotgun shells in the interior of the car, they never opened the trunk to determine whether it might contain a shotgun. Cf. Cady, supra. Aside from this, the suggestion is simply untenable as a matter of law. If this asserted rationale justifies search of all impounded automobiles, it must logically also justify the search of all automobiles, whether impounded or not, located in a similar area, for the argument is not based upon the custodial role of the police. See also Cooper v. California, supra, at 61, quoted in n. 5, supra. But this Court has never permitted the search of any car or home on the mere undifferentiated assumption that it might be vandalized and the vandals might find dangerous weapons or substances. Certainly Cady v. Dombrowski, permitting a limited search of a wrecked automobile where, inter alia, the police had a reasonable belief that the car contained a specific firearm, 413 U. S., at 448, does not so hold.
The Court makes much of the fact that the search here was a routine procedure, and attempts to analogize Cady v. Dombrowski. But it is quite clear that the routine in Cady was only to search where there was a reasonable belief that the car contained a dangerous weapon, 413 U. S., at 443; see Dombrowski v. Cady, 319 F.Supp. 530, 532 (ED Wis. 1970), not, as here, to search every car in custody without particular cause.