The question is whether it is an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to stop an automobile, being driven on a public highway, for the purpose of checking the driving license of the operator and the registration of the car, where there is neither probable cause to believe nor reasonable suspicion that the car is being driven contrary to the laws governing the operation of motor vehicles or that either the car or any of its occupants is subject to seizure or detention in connection with the violation of any other applicable law.
At 7:20 p. m. on November 30, 1976, a New Castle County, Del., patrolman in a police cruiser stopped the automobile occupied by respondent.
The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, noting first that "[t]he issue of the legal validity of systematic, roadblock-type stops of a number of vehicles for license and vehicle registration check is not now before the Court," 382 A.2d 1359, 1362 (1978) (emphasis in original). The court held that "a random stop of a motorist in the absence of specific articulable facts which justify the stop by indicating a reasonable suspicion that a violation of the law has occurred is constitutionally impermissible and violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution." Id., at 1364. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict between this decision, which is in accord with decisions in five other jurisdictions,
Because the Delaware Supreme Court held that the stop at issue not only violated the Federal Constitution but also
As we understand the opinion below, Art I, § 6, of the Delaware Constitution will automatically be interpreted at least as broadly as the Fourth Amendment;
The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments are implicated in this case because stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitute a "seizure" within the meaning of those Amendments, even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556-558 (1976); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878 (1975); cf. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968). The essential purpose of the proscriptions in the Fourth Amendment is to impose a standard
In this case, however, the State of Delaware urges that patrol officers be subject to no constraints in deciding which automobiles shall be stopped for a license and registration check because the State's interest in discretionary spot checks as a means of ensuring the safety of its roadways outweighs the resulting intrusion on the privacy and security of the persons detained.
We have only recently considered the legality of investigative stops of automobiles where the officers making the stop have neither probable cause to believe nor reasonable suspicion that either the automobile or its occupants are subject to seizure under the applicable criminal laws. In United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, supra, Border Patrol agents conducting roving patrols in areas near the international border asserted statutory authority to stop at random any vehicle in order to determine whether it contained illegal aliens or was involved in smuggling operations. The practice was held to violate the Fourth Amendment, but the Court did not invalidate all warrantless automobile stops upon less than probable cause. Given "the importance of the governmental interest at stake, the minimal intrusion of a brief stop, and the absence of practical alternatives for policing the border," 422 U. S., at 881, the Court analogized the roving-patrol stop to the on-the-street encounter addressed in Terry v. Ohio, supra, and held:
Because "the nature of illegal alien traffic and the characteristics of smuggling operations tend to generate articulable grounds for identifying violators," id., at 883, "a requirement of reasonable suspicion for stops allows the Government adequate means of guarding the public interest and also protects residents of the border areas from indiscriminate official interference." Ibid.
The constitutionality of stops by Border Patrol agents was again before the Court in United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra, in which we addressed the permissibility of checkpoint operations. This practice involved slowing all oncoming traffic "to a virtual, if not a complete, halt," 428 U. S., at 546, at a highway roadblock, and referring vehicles chosen at the discretion of Border Patrol agents to an area for secondary inspection. See id., at 546, 558. Recognizing that the governmental interest involved was the same as that furthered by roving-patrol stops, the Court nonetheless sustained the constitutionality of the Border Patrol's checkpoint operations. The crucial distinction was the lesser intrusion upon the motorist's Fourth Amendment interests:
Although not dispositive,
But the State of Delaware urges that even if discretionary spot checks such as occurred in this case intrude upon motorists as much as or more than do the roving patrols held impermissible in Brignoni-Ponce, these stops are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment because the State's interest in the practice as a means of promoting public safety upon its roads more than outweighs the intrusion entailed. Although the record discloses no statistics concerning the extent of the problem of lack of highway safety, in Delaware or in the Nation as a whole, we are aware of the danger to life
The question remains, however, whether in the service of these important ends the discretionary spot check is a sufficiently productive mechanism to justify the intrusion upon Fourth Amendment interests which such stops entail. On the record before us, that question must be answered in the negative. Given the alternative mechanisms available, both those in use and those that might be adopted, we are unconvinced that the incremental contribution to highway safety of the random spot check justifies the practice under the Fourth Amendment.
The foremost method of enforcing traffic and vehicle safety regulations, it must be recalled, is acting upon observed violations. Vehicle stops for traffic violations occur countless times each day; and on these occasions, licenses and registration papers are subject to inspection and drivers without them will be ascertained. Furthermore, drivers without licenses are presumably the less safe drivers whose propensities may well exhibit themselves.
Much the same can be said about the safety aspects of automobiles as distinguished from drivers. Many violations of minimum vehicle-safety requirements are observable, and something can be done about them by the observing officer, directly and immediately. Furthermore, in Delaware, as elsewhere, vehicles must carry and display current license plates,
The marginal contribution to roadway safety possibly resulting from a system of spot checks cannot justify subjecting every occupant of every vehicle on the roads to a seizure— limited in magnitude compared to other intrusions but nonetheless constitutionally cognizable—at the unbridled discretion of law enforcement officials. To insist neither upon an appropriate factual basis for suspicion directed at a particular automobile nor upon some other substantial and objective standard or rule to govern the exercise of discretion "would invite intrusions upon constitutionally guaranteed rights based on nothing more substantial than inarticulate hunches . . . ." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S., at 22. By hypothesis, stopping apparently safe drivers is necessary only because the danger presented by some drivers is not observable at the time of the stop. When there is not probable cause to believe that a driver is violating any one of the multitude of applicable traffic and equipment regulations
The "grave danger" of abuse of discretion, United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U. S., at 559, does not disappear simply because the automobile is subject to state regulation resulting in numerous instances of police-citizen contact, Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 441 (1973). Only last Term we pointed out that "if the government intrudes . . . the privacy interest suffers whether the government's motivation is to investigate violations of criminal laws or breaches of other statutory or regulatory standards." Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U. S., at 312-313. There are certain "relatively unique circumstances," id., at 313, in which consent to regulatory restrictions is presumptively concurrent with participation in the regulated enterprise. See United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311 (1972) (federal regulation of firearms); Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72 (1970) (federal regulation of liquor). Otherwise, regulatory inspections unaccompanied by any quantum of individualized, articulable suspicion must be undertaken pursuant to previously specified "neutral criteria." Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., supra, at 323.
An individual operating or traveling in an automobile does not lose all reasonable expectation of privacy simply because the automobile and its use are subject to government regulation.
Accordingly, we hold that except in those situations in which there is at least articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or that an automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law, stopping an automobile and detaining the driver in order to check his driver's license and the registration of the automobile are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. This holding does not preclude the State of Delaware or other States from developing methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion.
MR. JUSTICE BLACKMUN, with whom MR. JUSTICE POWELL joins, concurring.
The Court, ante, this page, carefully protects from the reach of its decision other less intrusive spot checks "that do not involve
With this understanding, I join the Court's opinion and its judgment.
MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.
The Court holds, in successive sentences, that absent an articulable, reasonable suspicion of unlawful conduct, a motorist may not be subjected to a random license check, but that the States are free to develop "methods for spot checks that . . . do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion," such as "[q]uestioning . . . all oncoming traffic at road-block-type stops . . . ." Ante, at 663. Because motorists, apparently like sheep, are much less likely to be "frightened" or "annoyed" when stopped en masse, a highway patrolman needs neither probable cause nor articulable suspicion to stop all motorists on a particular thoroughfare, but he cannot without articulable suspicion stop less than all motorists. The Court thus elevates the adage "misery loves company" to a novel role in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. The rule becomes "curiouser and curiouser" as one attempts to follow the Court's explanation for it.
As the Court correctly points out, people are not shorn of their Fourth Amendment protection when they step from their homes onto the public sidewalks or from the sidewalks into
In executing this balancing process, the Court concludes that given the alternative mechanisms available, discretionary spot checks are not a "sufficiently productive mechanism" to safeguard the State's admittedly "vital interest in ensuring that only those qualified to do so are permitted to operate motor vehicles, that these vehicles are fit for safe operation, and hence that licensing, registration, and vehicle inspection requirements are being observed." Ante, at 659, 658. Foremost among the alternative methods of enforcing traffic and vehicle
Nor is the Court impressed with the deterrence rationale, finding it inconceivable that an unlicensed driver who is not deterred by the prospect of being involved in a traffic violation or other incident requiring him to produce a license would be deterred by the possibility of being subjected to a spot check. The Court arrives at its conclusion without the benefit of a shred of empirical data in this record suggesting that a system of random spot checks would fail to deter violators. In the absence of such evidence, the State's determination that random stops would serve a deterrence function should stand.
On the other side of the balance, the Court advances only the most diaphanous of citizen interests. Indeed, the Court does not say that these interests can never be infringed by the State, just that the State must infringe them en masse rather than citizen by citizen. To comply with the Fourth Amendment, the State need only subject all citizens to the same "anxiety" and "inconvenien[ce]" to which it now subjects only a few.
Neither the Court's opinion, nor the opinion of the Supreme Court of Delaware, suggests that the random stop made in this case was carried out in a manner inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Absent an equal protection violation, the fact that random stops may entail "a possibly unsettling show of authority," ante, at 657, and "may create substantial anxiety," ibid., seems an insufficient basis to distinguish for Fourth Amendment purposes between a roadblock stopping all cars and the random stop at issue here. Accordingly, I would reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Delaware.
"The Delaware Constitution Article I, § 6 is substantially similar to the Fourth Amendment and a violation of the latter is necessarily a violation of the former." 382 A. 2d, at 1362, citing State v. Moore, 55 Del. 356, 187 A.2d 807 (1963).
Moore was decided less than two years after Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643 (1961), applied to the States the limitations previously imposed only on the Federal Government. In setting forth the approach reiterated in the opinion below, Moore noted not only the common purposes and wording of the Fourth Amendment and the state constitutional provision, but also the overriding effect of the former. See 55 Del., at 362-363, 187 A. 2d, at 810-811.
In addition, the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment generally requires that prior to a search a neutral and detached magistrate ascertain that the requisite standard is met, see, e. g., Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385 (1978).
"Our decision in this case takes into account the special function of the Border Patrol, the importance of the governmental interests in policing the border area, the character of roving-patrol stops, and the availability of alternatives to random stops unsupported by reasonable suspicion. Border Patrol agents have no part in enforcing laws that regulate highway use, and their activities have nothing to do with an inquiry whether motorists and their vehicles are entitled, by virtue of compliance with laws governing highway usage, to be upon the public highways. Our decision thus does not imply that state and local enforcement agencies are without power to conduct such limited stops as are necessary to enforce laws regarding drivers' licenses, vehicle registration, truck weights, and similar matters."