JUSTICE STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.
In Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, the Court held that a warrantless search of an automobile stopped by police officers who had probable cause to believe the vehicle contained contraband was not unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The Court in Carroll did not explicitly
In the evening of November 27, 1978, an informant who had previously proved to be reliable telephoned Detective Marcum of the District of Columbia Police Department and told him that an individual known as "Bandit" was selling narcotics kept in the trunk of a car parked at 439 Ridge Street. The informant stated that he had just observed "Bandit" complete a sale and that "Bandit" had told him that additional narcotics were in the trunk. The informant gave Marcum a detailed description of "Bandit" and stated that the car was a "purplish maroon" Chevrolet Malibu with District of Columbia license plates.
Accompanied by Detective Cassidy and Sergeant Gonzales, Marcum immediately drove to the area and found a maroon Malibu parked in front of 439 Ridge Street. A license check disclosed that the car was registered to Albert Ross; a computer check on Ross revealed that he fit the informant's description and used the alias "Bandit." In two passes through the neighborhood the officers did not observe anyone matching the informant's description. To avoid alerting persons on the street, they left the area.
At the police station Cassidy thoroughly searched the car. In addition to the "lunch-type" brown paper bag, Cassidy found in the trunk a zippered red leather pouch. He unzipped the pouch and discovered $3,200 in cash. The police laboratory later determined that the powder in the paper bag was heroin. No warrant was obtained.
Ross was charged with possession of heroin with intent to distribute, in violation of 21 U. S. C. § 841(a). Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the heroin found in the paper bag and the currency found in the leather pouch. After an evidentiary hearing, the District Court denied the motion to suppress. The heroin and currency were introduced in evidence at trial and Ross was convicted.
A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals reversed the conviction. It held that the police had probable cause to stop and search Ross' car and that, under Carroll v. United States, supra, and Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, the officers lawfully could search the automobile — including its trunk — without a warrant. The court considered separately, however, the warrantless search of the two containers found in the trunk. On the basis of Arkansas v. Sanders,
The entire Court of Appeals then voted to rehear the case en banc. A majority of the court rejected the panel's conclusion that a distinction of constitutional significance existed between the two containers found in respondent's trunk; it held that the police should not have opened either container without first obtaining a warrant. The court reasoned:
Three dissenting judges interpreted Sanders differently.
There is, however, no dispute among judges about the importance of striving for clarification in this area of the law. For countless vehicles are stopped on highways and public
We begin with a review of the decision in Carroll itself. In the fall of 1921, federal prohibition agents obtained evidence that George Carroll and John Kiro were "bootleggers" who frequently traveled between Grand Rapids and Detroit in an Oldsmobile Roadster.
No contraband was visible in the front seat of the Oldsmobile and the rear portion of the roadster was closed. One of the agents raised the rumble seat but found no liquor. He raised the seat cushion and again found nothing. The officer then struck at the "lazyback" of the seat and noticed that it was "harder than upholstery ordinarily is in those backs."
Carroll and Kiro were convicted of transporting intoxicating liquor in violation of the National Prohibition Act. On review of those convictions, this Court ruled that the warrantless search of the roadster was reasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. In an extensive opinion written by Chief Justice Taft, the Court held:
The Court explained at length the basis for this rule. The Court noted that historically warrantless searches of vessels, wagons, and carriages — as opposed to fixed premises such as a home or other building — had been considered reasonable by Congress. After reviewing legislation enacted by Congress between 1789 and 1799,
The Court reviewed additional legislation passed by Congress
Thus, since its earliest days Congress had recognized the impracticability of securing a warrant in cases involving the transportation of contraband goods.
In defining the nature of this "exception" to the general rule that "[i]n cases where the securing of a warrant is reasonably practicable, it must be used," id., at 156, the Court in Carroll emphasized the importance of the requirement that
Moreover, the probable-cause determination must be based on objective facts that could justify the issuance of a warrant by a magistrate and not merely on the subjective good faith of the police officers. " `[A]s we have seen, good faith is not enough to constitute probable cause. That faith must be grounded on facts within knowledge of the [officer], which in the judgment of the court would make his faith reasonable.' " Id., at 161-162 (quoting Director General of Railroads v. Kastenbaum, 263 U.S. 25, 28).
The rationale justifying a warrantless search of an automobile that is believed to be transporting contraband arguably applies with equal force to any movable container that is believed to be carrying an illicit substance. That argument,
Chadwick involved the warrantless search of a 200-pound footlocker secured with two padlocks. Federal railroad officials in San Diego became suspicious when they noticed that a brown footlocker loaded onto a train bound for Boston was unusually heavy and leaking talcum powder, a substance often used to mask the odor of marihuana. Narcotics agents met the train in Boston and a trained police dog signaled the presence of a controlled substance inside the footlocker. The agents did not seize the footlocker, however, at this time; they waited until respondent Chadwick arrived and the footlocker was placed in the trunk of Chadwick's automobile. Before the engine was started, the officers arrested Chadwick and his two companions. The agents then removed the footlocker to a secured place, opened it without a warrant, and discovered a large quantity of marihuana.
In a subsequent criminal proceeding, Chadwick claimed that the warrantless search of the footlocker violated the Fourth Amendment. In the District Court, the Government argued that as soon as the footlocker was placed in the automobile a warrantless search was permissible under Carroll. The District Court rejected that argument,
The Court in Chadwick specifically rejected the argument that the warrantless search was "reasonable" because a footlocker has some of the mobile characteristics that support warrantless searches of automobiles. The Court recognized that "a person's expectations of privacy in personal luggage are substantially greater than in an automobile," id., at 13, and noted that the practical problems associated with the temporary detention of a piece of luggage during the period of time necessary to obtain a warrant are significantly less than those associated with the detention of an automobile. Id., at 13, n. 7. In ruling that the warrantless search of the
The facts in Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, were similar to those in Chadwick. In Sanders, a Little Rock police officer received information from a reliable informant that Sanders would arrive at the local airport on a specified flight that afternoon carrying a green suitcase containing marihuana. The officer went to the airport. Sanders arrived on schedule and retrieved a green suitcase from the airline baggage service. Sanders gave the suitcase to a waiting companion, who placed it in the trunk of a taxi. Sanders and his companion drove off in the cab; police officers followed and stopped the taxi several blocks from the airport. The officers opened the trunk, seized the suitcase, and searched it on the scene without a warrant. As predicted, the suitcase contained marihuana.
The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled that the warrantless search of the suitcase was impermissible under the Fourth Amendment, and this Court affirmed. As in Chadwick, the mere fact that the suitcase had been placed in the trunk of the vehicle did not render the automobile exception of Carroll applicable; the police had probable cause to seize the suitcase before it was placed in the trunk of the cab and did not
The Court in Sanders did not, however, rest its decision solely on the authority of Chadwick. In rejecting the State's
Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420, however, was a case in which suspicion was not directed at a specific container. In that case the Court for the first time was forced to consider whether police officers who are entitled to conduct a warrantless search of an automobile stopped on a public roadway may open a container found within the vehicle. In the early morning of January 5, 1975, police officers stopped Robbins' station wagon because he was driving erratically. Robbins got out of the car, but later returned to obtain the vehicle's registration papers. When he opened the car door, the officers smelled marihuana smoke. One of the officers searched Robbins and discovered a vial of liquid; in a search of the interior of the car the officer found marihuana. The police officers then opened the tailgate of the station wagon and raised the cover of a recessed luggage compartment. In
Robbins was charged with various drug offenses and moved to suppress the contents of the plastic packages. The California Court of Appeal held that "[s]earch of the automobile was proper when the officers learned that appellant was smoking marijuana when they stopped him"
This Court reversed. Writing for a plurality, Justice Stewart rejected the argument that the outward appearance of the packages precluded Robbins from having a reasonable expectation of privacy in their contents. He also squarely rejected the argument that there is a constitutional distinction between searches of luggage and searches of "less worthy" containers. Justice Stewart reasoned that all containers are equally protected by the Fourth Amendment unless their contents are in plain view. The plurality concluded that the warrantless search was impermissible because Chadwick and Sanders had established that "a closed piece of luggage found in a lawfully searched car is constitutionally protected to the same extent as are closed pieces of luggage found anywhere else." 453 U. S., at 425.
In an opinion concurring in the judgment, JUSTICE POWELL, the author of the Court's opinion in Sanders, stated that "[t]he plurality's approach strains the rationales of our prior cases and imposes substantial burdens on law enforcement without vindicating any significant values of privacy." 453
The parties in Robbins had not pressed that argument, however,
That case has arrived. Unlike Chadwick and Sanders, in this case police officers had probable cause to search respondent's entire vehicle.
In Carroll itself, the whiskey that the prohibition agents seized was not in plain view. It was discovered only after an officer opened the rumble seat and tore open the upholstery of the lazyback. The Court did not find the scope of the search unreasonable. Having stopped Carroll and Kiro on a public road and subjected them to the indignity of a vehicle
In Chambers v. Maroney the police found weapons and stolen property "concealed in a compartment under the dashboard." 399 U. S., at 44. No suggestion was made that the scope of the search was impermissible. It would be illogical to assume that the outcome of Chambers — or the outcome of Carroll itself — would have been different if the police had found the secreted contraband enclosed within a secondary container and had opened that container without a warrant. If it was reasonable for prohibition agents to rip open the upholstery in Carroll, it certainly would have been reasonable for them to look into a burlap sack stashed inside; if it was reasonable to open the concealed compartment in Chambers, it would have been equally reasonable to open a paper bag crumpled within it. A contrary rule could produce absurd results inconsistent with the decision in Carroll itself.
In its application of Carroll, this Court in fact has sustained warrantless searches of containers found during a lawful search of an automobile. In Husty v. United States, 282 U.S. 694, the Court upheld a warrantless seizure of whiskey found during a search of an automobile, some of which was discovered in "whiskey bags" that could have contained other goods.
A lawful search of fixed premises generally extends to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found and is not limited by the possibility that separate acts of entry
As Justice Stewart stated in Robbins, the Fourth Amendment provides protection to the owner of every container
In the same manner, an individual's expectation of privacy in a vehicle and its contents may not survive if probable cause is given to believe that the vehicle is transporting contraband. Certainly the privacy interests in a car's trunk or glove compartment may be no less than those in a movable container. An individual undoubtedly has a significant interest that the upholstery of his automobile will not be ripped or a hidden compartment within it opened. These interests must yield to the authority of a search, however, which — in light of Carroll — does not itself require the prior approval of a magistrate. The scope of a warrantless search based on probable cause is no narrower — and no broader — than the scope of a search authorized by a warrant supported by probable cause. Only the prior approval of the magistrate is waived; the search otherwise is as the magistrate could authorize.
Our decision today is inconsistent with the disposition in Robbins v. California and with the portion of the opinion in Arkansas v. Sanders on which the plurality in Robbins relied. Nevertheless, the doctrine of stare decisis does not preclude this action. Although we have rejected some of the reasoning in Sanders, we adhere to our holding in that case; although we reject the precise holding in Robbins, there was no Court opinion supporting a single rationale for its judgment, and the reasoning we adopt today was not presented by the parties in that case. Moreover, it is clear that no legitimate reliance interest can be frustrated by our decision today.
We reaffirm the basic rule of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence stated by Justice Stewart for a unanimous Court in Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 390:
The exception recognized in Carroll is unquestionably one that is "specifically established and well delineated." We hold that the scope of the warrantless search authorized by that exception is no broader and no narrower than a magistrate could legitimately authorize by warrant. If probable cause justifies the search of a lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may conceal the object of the search.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed. The case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
My dissents in prior cases have indicated my continuing dissatisfaction and discomfort with the Court's vacillation in what is rightly described as "this troubled area." Ante, at 817. See United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1, 17 (1977); Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753, 768 (1979); Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420, 436 (1981).
I adhere to the views expressed in those dissents. It is important, however, not only for the Court as an institution, but also for law enforcement officials and defendants, that the applicable legal rules be clearly established. JUSTICE STEVENS' opinion for the Court now accomplishes much in this respect, and it should clarify a good bit of the confusion that has existed. In order to have an authoritative ruling, I join the Court's opinion and judgment.
In my opinion in Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420, 429 (1981), concurring in the judgment, I stated that the judgment was justified, though not compelled, by the Court's opinion in Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753 (1979). I did not agree, however, with the "bright line" rule articulated by the plurality opinion. Rather, I repeated the view I long have held that one's "reasonable expectation of privacy" is a particularly relevant factor in determining the validity of a warrantless search. I have recognized that, with respect to automobiles in general, this expectation can be only a limited one. See Arkansas v. Sanders, supra, at 761; Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266, 279 (1973) (POWELL, J., concurring). I continue to think that in many situations one's reasonable expectation of privacy may be a decisive factor in a search case.
It became evident last Term, however, from the five opinions written in Robbins — in none of which THE CHIEF JUSTICE joined — that it is essential to have a Court opinion in automobile search cases that provides "specific guidance to police and courts in this recurring situation." Robbins v. California, supra, at 435 (POWELL, J., concurring in judgment). The Court's opinion today, written by JUSTICE STEVENS and now joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and four other Justices, will afford this needed guidance. It is fair also to say that, given Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925), and Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970), the Court's decision does not depart substantially from Fourth Amendment doctrine in automobile cases. Moreover, in enunciating a readily understood and applied rule, today's decision is consistent with the similar step taken last Term in New York v. Belton, 453 U.S. 454 (1981).
I join the Court's opinion.
JUSTICE WHITE, dissenting.
I would not overrule Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420 (1981). For the reasons stated by Justice Stewart in that
JUSTICE MARSHALL, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN joins, dissenting.
The majority today not only repeals all realistic limits on warrantless automobile searches, it repeals the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement itself. By equating a police officer's estimation of probable cause with a magistrate's, the Court utterly disregards the value of a neutral and detached magistrate. For as we recently, and unanimously, reaffirmed:
A police officer on the beat hardly satisfies these standards. In adopting today's new rule, the majority opinion shows contempt for these Fourth Amendment values, ignores this Court's precedents, is internally inconsistent, and produces anomalous and unjust consequences. I therefore dissent.
According to the majority, whenever police have probable cause to believe that contraband may be found within an
The new rule adopted by the Court today is completely incompatible with established Fourth Amendment principles, and takes a first step toward an unprecedented "probable cause" exception to the warrant requirement. In my view, under accepted standards, the warrantless search of the containers in this case clearly violates the Fourth Amendment.
"[I]t is a cardinal principle that `searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment — subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.' " Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 390 (1978), quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967). The warrant requirement is crucial to protecting Fourth Amendment rights because of the importance of having the probable-cause determination made in the first instance by a neutral and detached magistrate. Time and
The requirement of prior review by a detached and neutral magistrate limits the concentration of power held by executive officers over the individual, and prevents some overbroad or unjustified searches from occurring at all. See United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 317 (1972); Abel v. United States, 362 U.S. 217, 252 (1960) (BRENNAN, J., joined by Warren, C. J., and Black and Douglas, JJ., dissenting). Prior review may also "prevent hindsight from coloring the evaluation of the reasonableness of a search or seizure." United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 565 (1976); see also Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 96 (1964). Furthermore, even if a magistrate would have authorized the search that the police conducted, the interposition of a magistrate's neutral judgment reassures the public that the orderly process of law has been respected:
See also Marshall v. Barlow's, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 323 (1978); United States v. United States District Court, supra, at 321. The safeguards embodied in the warrant requirement apply as forcefully to automobile searches as to any others.
Our cases do recognize a narrow exception to the warrant requirement for certain automobile searches. Throughout our decisions, two major considerations have been advanced to justify the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.
First, these searches have been justified on the basis of the exigency of the mobility of the automobile. See, e. g., Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970); Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925). This "mobility" rationale is something of a misnomer, cf. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 442-443 (1973), since the police ordinarily can remove the car's occupants and secure the vehicle on the spot. However, the inherent mobility of the vehicle often creates situations in which the police's only alternative to an immediate search may be to release the automobile from their possession.
In many cases, however, the police will, prior to searching the car, have cause to arrest the occupants and bring them to the station for booking. In this situation, the police can ordinarily seize the automobile and bring it to the station. Because the vehicle is now in the exclusive control of the authorities, any subsequent search cannot be justified by the mobility of the car. Rather, an immediate warrantless search of the vehicle is permitted because of the second major justification for the automobile exception: the diminished expectation of privacy in an automobile.
Because an automobile presents much of its contents in open view to police officers who legitimately stop it on a public way, is used for travel, and is subject to significant government
The majority's rule is flatly inconsistent with these established Fourth Amendment principles concerning the scope of the automobile exception and the importance of the warrant requirement. Historically, the automobile exception has been limited to those situations where its application is compelled by the justifications described above. Today, the majority makes no attempt to base its decision on these justifications. This failure is not surprising, since the traditional rationales for the automobile exception plainly do not support extending it to the search of a container found inside a vehicle.
Ultimately, the majority, unable to rely on the justifications underlying the automobile exception, simply creates a new "probable cause" exception to the warrant requirement for automobiles. We have soundly rejected attempts to create such an exception in the past, see Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971), and we should do so again today.
In purported reliance on Carroll v. United States, supra, the Court defines the permissible scope of a search by reference to the scope of a probable-cause search that a magistrate could authorize. Under Carroll, however, the mobility of an automobile is what is critical to the legality of a warrantless search. Of course, Carroll properly confined the search to the probable-cause limits that would also limit a magistrate, but it did not suggest that the search could be as broad as a magistrate could authorize upon a warrant. A magistrate could authorize a search encompassing containers, even though the mobility rationale does not justify such a broad search. Indeed, the Court's reasoning might have justified the search of the entire car in Coolidge despite the fact that the car was not "mobile" at all. Thus, in blithely suggesting that Carroll "neither broadened nor limited the scope of a lawful search based on probable cause,"
The majority's sleight-of-hand ignores the obvious differences between the function served by a magistrate in making a determination of probable cause and the function of the automobile exception. It is irrelevant to a magistrate's function whether the items subject to search are mobile, may be in danger of destruction, or are impractical to store, or whether an immediate search would be less intrusive than a seizure without a warrant. A magistrate's only concern is whether there is probable cause to search them. Where suspicion has focused not on a particular item but only on a vehicle, home, or office, the magistrate might reasonably authorize a search of closed containers at the location as well. But an officer on the beat who searches an automobile without a warrant is not entitled to conduct a broader search than the exigency obviating the warrant justifies. After all, what justifies the warrantless search is not probable cause alone, but probable cause coupled with the mobility of the automobile. Because the scope of a warrantless search should depend on the scope of the justification for dispensing with a warrant, the entire premise of the majority's opinion fails to support its conclusion.
The majority's rule masks the startling assumption that a policeman's determination of probable cause is the functional equivalent of the determination of a neutral and detached magistrate. This assumption ignores a major premise of the warrant requirement — the importance of having a neutral and detached magistrate determine whether probable cause exists. See supra, at 828-829. The majority's explanation that the scope of the warrantless automobile search will be "limited" to what a magistrate could authorize is thus inconsistent with our cases, which firmly establish that an on-the-spot
Our recent decisions in United States v. Chadwick, 433 U.S. 1 (1977), Arkansas v. Sanders, supra, and Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420 (1981), clearly affirm that movable containers are different from automobiles for Fourth Amendment purposes. In Chadwick, the Court drew a constitutional distinction between luggage and automobiles in terms of substantial differences in expectations of privacy. 433 U. S., at 12. Moreover, the Court held that the mobility of such containers does not justify dispensing with a warrant, since federal agents had seized the luggage and safely transferred it to their custody under their exclusive control. Sanders explicitly held that "the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment applies to personal luggage taken from an automobile to the same degree it applies to such luggage in other locations." 442 U. S., at 766. And Robbins reaffirmed the Sanders rationale as applied to wrapped packages found in the unlocked luggage compartment of a vehicle. 453 U. S., at 425.
In light of these considerations, I conclude that any movable container found within an automobile deserves precisely the same degree of Fourth Amendment warrant protection that it would deserve if found at a location outside the automobile. See Sanders, 442 U. S., at 763-765, and n. 13; Chadwick, supra, at 17, n. 1 (BRENNAN, J., concurring). Chadwick, as the majority notes, "reaffirmed the general principle that closed packages and containers may not be
Here, because respondent Ross had placed the evidence in question in a closed paper bag, the container could be seized, but not searched, without a warrant. No practical exigencies required the warrantless searches on the street or at the station: Ross had been arrested and was in custody when both searches occurred, and the police succeeded in transporting the bag to the station without inadvertently spilling its contents.
In announcing its new rule, the Court purports to rely on earlier automobile search cases, especially Carroll v. United States. The Court's approach, however, far from being "faithful to the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment that the Court has followed with substantial consistency throughout our history," ante, at 824, is plainly contrary to the letter and the spirit of our prior automobile search cases. Moreover, the new rule produces anomalous and unacceptable consequences.
The majority's argument that its decision is supported by our decisions in Carroll and Chambers is misplaced. The Court in Carroll upheld a warrantless search of an automobile for contraband on the basis of the impracticability of securing a warrant in cases involving the transportation of contraband goods. The Court did not, however, suggest that obtaining a warrant for the search of an automobile is always impracticable.
Notwithstanding the reasoning of these cases, the majority argues that Carroll and Chambers support its decisions because integral compartments of a car are functionally equivalent to containers found within a car, and because the practical advantages to the police of the Carroll doctrine "would be largely nullified if the permissible scope of a warrantless search of an automobile did not include containers and packages found inside the vehicle." Ante, at 820. Neither of these arguments is persuasive. First, the Court's argument that allowing warrantless searches of certain integral compartments of the car in Carroll and Chambers, while protecting movable containers within the car, would be "illogical" and "absurd," ante, at 818, ignores the reason why this Court has allowed warrantless searches of automobile compartments. Surely an integral compartment within a car is just as mobile, and presents the same practical problems of safekeeping, as the car itself. This cannot be said of movable containers located within the car. The fact that there may be a high expectation of privacy in both containers and compartments is irrelevant, since the privacy rationale is not, and cannot be, the justification for the warrantless search of compartments.
The Court's second argument, which focuses on the practical advantages to police of the Carroll doctrine, fares no better. The practical considerations which concerned the Carroll Court involved the difficulty of immobilizing a vehicle while a warrant must be obtained. The Court had no occasion to address whether containers present the same practical difficulties as the car itself or integral compartments of the car. They do not. See supra, at 832. Carroll hardly suggested, as the Court implies, ante, at 820, that a warrantless
Although it can find no support for its rule in this Court's precedents or in the traditional justifications for the automobile exception, the majority offers another justification. In a footnote, the majority suggests that "practical considerations" militate against securing containers found during an automobile search and taking them to the magistrate. Ante, at 821, n. 28. The Court confidently remarks: "[P]rohibiting police from opening immediately a container in which the object of the search is most likely to be found and instead forcing them first to comb the entire vehicle would actually exacerbate the intrusion on privacy interests. Moreover, until the container itself was opened the police could never be certain that the contraband was not secreted in a yet undiscovered portion of the vehicle." Ibid. The vehicle would have to be seized while a warrant was obtained, a requirement inconsistent with Carroll and Chambers. Ante, at 821, n. 28.
This explanation is unpersuasive. As this Court explained in Sanders and as the majority today implicitly concedes, the burden to police departments of seizing a package or personal luggage simply does not compare to the burden of seizing and safeguarding automobiles. Sanders, 442 U. S., at 765, n. 14; ante, at 811, and n. 16. Other aspects of the Court's explanation are also implausible. The search will not always require a "combing" of the entire vehicle, since police may be looking for a particular item and may discover it promptly. If, instead, they are looking more generally for evidence of a crime, the immediate opening of the container will not protect the defendant's privacy; whether or not it contains contraband, the police will continue to search for new evidence. Finally, the defendant, not the police, should be afforded the choice whether he prefers the immediate opening of his suitcase or other container to the delay incident to seeking a warrant. Cf. Sanders, supra, at 764, n. 12. The more reasonable
Finally, the majority's new rule is theoretically unsound and will create anomalous and unwarranted results. These consequences are readily apparent from the Court's attempt to reconcile its new rule with the holdings of Chadwick and Sanders.
Alternatively, the majority may be suggesting that Chadwick and Sanders may be explained because the connection of the container to the vehicle was incidental in these two cases. That is, because police had pre-existing probable cause to seize and search the containers, they were not entitled to wait until the item was placed in a vehicle to take advantage of the automobile exception. Cf. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971); 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure 519-525 (1978). I wholeheartedly agree that police cannot employ a pretext to escape Fourth Amendment prohibitions and cannot rely on an exigency that they could easily have avoided. This interpretation, however, might well be an exception that swallows up the majority's rule. In neither Chadwick nor Sanders did the Court suggest that the delay of the police was a pretext for taking advantage of the automobile exception. For all that appears, the Government may have had legitimate reasons for not searching as soon as they had probable cause. In any event, asking police to rely
The Court today ignores the clear distinction that Chadwick established between movable containers and automobiles. It also rejects all of the relevant reasoning of Sanders
The only convincing explanation I discern for the majority's broad rule is expediency: it assists police in conducting
This case will have profound implications for the privacy of citizens traveling in automobiles, as the Court well understands. "For countless vehicles are stopped on highways and public streets every day and our cases demonstrate that it is not uncommon for police officers to have probable cause to believe that contraband may be found in a stopped vehicle." Ante, at 803-804. A closed paper bag, a toolbox, a knapsack, a suitcase, and an attache case can alike be searched without the protection of the judgment of a neutral magistrate, based only on the rarely disturbed decision of a police officer that he has probable cause to search for contraband in the vehicle.
The Court also has held that if an immediate search on the street is permissible without a warrant, a search soon thereafter at the police station is permissible if the vehicle is impounded. Chambers, supra; Texas v. White, 423 U.S. 67. These decisions are based on the practicalities of the situations presented and a realistic appraisal of the relatively minor protection that a contrary rule would provide for privacy interests. Given the scope of the initial intrusion caused by a seizure of an automobile — which often could leave the occupants stranded on the highway — the Court rejected an inflexible rule that would force police officers in every case either to post guard at the vehicle while a warrant is obtained or to tow the vehicle itself to the station. Similarly, if an immediate search on the scene could be conducted, but not one at the station if the vehicle is impounded, police often simply would search the vehicle on the street — at no advantage to the occupants, yet possibly at certain cost to the police. The rules as applied in particular cases may appear unsatisfactory. They reflect, however, a reasoned application of the more general rule that if an individual gives the police probable cause to believe a vehicle is transporting contraband, he loses the right to proceed on his way without official interference.
Warrantless searches of automobiles have been upheld in a variety of factual contexts quite different from that presented in Carroll. Cf. Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58; Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433; South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364. Many of these searches do not require a showing of probable cause that the vehicle contains contraband. We are not called upon to — and do not — consider in this case the scope of the warrantless search that is permitted in those cases.
"We here find the line of distinction between legal and illegal seizures of liquor in transport in vehicles. It is certainly a reasonable distinction. It gives the owner of an automobile or other vehicle seized under Section 26, in absence of probable cause, a right to have restored to him the automobile, it protects him under the Weeks [Weeks v. United States, 232 U.S. 383] and Amos [Amos v. United States, 255 U.S. 313] cases from use of the liquor as evidence against him, and it subjects the officer making the seizures to damages. On the other hand, in a case showing probable cause, the Government and its officials are given the opportunity which they should have, to make the investigation necessary to trace reasonably suspected contraband goods and to seize them." 267 U. S., at 156.
"In this case, there was no nexus between the search and the automobile, merely a coincidence. The challenged search in this case was one of a footlocker, not an automobile. The search took place not in an automobile, but in [the federal building]. The only connection that the automobile had to this search was that, prior to its seizure, the footlocker was placed on the floor of an automobile's open trunk." United States v. Chadwick, 393 F.Supp. 763, 772 (Mass. 1975).
The substantial burdens on law enforcement identified by JUSTICE POWELL would, of course, not be affected by the character of the container found during an automobile search. No comparable practical problems arise when the official suspicion is confined to a particular piece of luggage, as in Chadwick and Sanders. Cf. n. 19, supra.
"[W]e believe it clear that the police had ample and reasonable cause to stop Ross and to search his car. The informer had supplied accurate information on prior occasions, and he was an eyewitness to sales of narcotics by Ross. He said he had just seen Ross take narcotics from the trunk of his car in making a sale and heard him say he possessed additional narcotics." Id., at 361, n. 22, 655 F. 2d, at 1168, n. 22.
The court further noted: "In this case, the informant told the police that Ross had narcotics in the trunk of his car. No specific container was identified." Id., at 359, 655 F. 2d, at 1166.
"Places within the described premises are not excluded merely because some additional act of entry or opening may be required. `In countless cases in which warrants described only the land and the buildings, a search of desks, cabinets, closets and similar items has been permitted.' " 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure 152 (1978) (quoting Massey v. Commonwealth, 305 S.W.2d 755, 756 (Ky. 1957)).
The Court's suggestion that the absence of such an argument "illuminates the profession's understanding of the scope of the search permitted under Carroll," ante, at 819, is an unusual approach to constitutional interpretation. I would hesitate to rely upon the "profession's understanding" of the Fourteenth Amendment or of Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896), in the early part of this century as justification for not granting Negroes constitutional protection. See Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Moreover, for a number of reasons, including the broad scope of the permitted search incident to arrest prior to Chimel v. California, 395 U.S. 752 (1969), and the uncertain meaning of a "search" prior to Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), the profession formerly advanced different arguments against automobile searches than it advances today.