California v. Acevedo

California v. Acevedo

United States Supreme Court
500 U.S. 565 (1991)

ISSUE: Does the 4th Amdt. require the police to obtain a warrant to open a paper sack in a movable vehicle simply because they lack PC to search the entire car?
HOLDING: No, the police may search an automobile and the containers within it where they have PC to believe contraband or evidence is contained.
FACTS:
  • Federal DEA agent called the Santa Ana PD to tell them that they had seized a package containing marijuana in Hawaii that was to be delivered to FedEx in Santa Ana
  • The agent sent the package to the Santa Ana PD who delivered it to the FedEx office and waited for someone to pick it up
  • The police then followed the recipient to his house, and watched as someone go inside the house and leave with a full brown paper sack
  • Police stopped the person who exited before he drove off, opened the trunk, and then opened the paper sack and found marijuana
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Trial Ct. refused to suppress evidence of marijuana
  • Ct. App. reversed
  • Cal. Supreme Ct. denied petition for review
RULES:
  • Carroll v. United States: A warrantless search of an automobile based upon PC to believe that the vehicle contained evidence of crime is valid
    • Search may be immediate or delayed
  • United States v. Ross: Vehicle search exception could include a search of a container inside the vehicle when the search was supported by PC
REASONING:
  • Overrule Sanders: Better to adopt one clear-cut rule to govern vehicle searches and eliminate the warrant requirement for closed containers found inside
  • New rule: Police may search an automobile and the containers within it where they have PC to believe contraband or evidence is contained
COMMENTS:
  • The most relevant holding of this case is that if the police have probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains the fruits and instrumentalities of crime, they may search the entire vehicle, including any closed containers therein.
  • However, my professor has somewhat convinced me that Acevedo also says that if the police only have probable cause to believe that a container inside the car contains contraband, the police may only search the container. This would assume that the police reasonably know that the rest of the car does not contain contraband.
OTHER CASES:
  • Wyoming v. Hougton: Where there is PC to search a vehicle, the automobile exception permits the warrantless search of a passenger's personal belongings, even if he's not suspected of criminal activity
  • Houghton does not apply, however, if the personal belonging is intimately connected with the passenger, e.g., when a woman has her purse on her shoulder.

 

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