Colorado v. Bertine

Colorado v. Bertine

479 U.S. 367 (1987) [p. 252]

ISSUE: Was it unreasonable under the 4th Amdt. for an officer to open a backpack and the containers inside that was inside a van he was lawfully impounding pursuant to an arrest?
HOLDING: No, reasonable police regulations relating to inventory procedures administered in good faith satisfy the 4th Amdt., even though in hindsight courts might be able to devise equally reasonable rules.
FACTS:
  • D was arrested for DUI
  • An office inventoried the contents of the van before the tow truck arrived
  • Open opening a nylon bag with metal canisters inside the closed backpack, the officer found cocaine, methaqualone tablets, cocaine paraphernalia, and $700 in cash
REASONING:
  • No evidence of bad faith
  • Same govt. interests as Opperman & Lafayette: Police protected the property from possible unauthorized interference and protected themselves from theft, vandalism, and negligence claims
  • Other alternative immaterial: Reasonableness of any particular governmental action does not necessarily depend on a less intrusive alternative
    • No need to weigh competing interests
    • Use single, familiar standard
  • Valid exercise of discretion: Nothing in Opperman orLafayette prohibits the exercise of police discretion so long as that discretion is exercised according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity
COMMENTS:
  • An inventory search extends past the walls of a closed container. However, the inventory search cannot be pretextual (see the comments after South Dakota v. Opperman), and the police department needs an inventory policy (see Florida v. Wells, infra).
OTHER CASES:
  • Florida v. Wells: A unanimous court found that an inventory search of a locked suitcase found in the trunk of an impounded vehicle did violate the 4th Amdt. because Florida Highway Patrol had no policy with respect to the opening of closed containers encountered during an inventory search.
    • A police officer may be allowed sufficient latitude in determining whether a particular container should or should not be opened in light of the nature of the search and the characteristics of the container itself
    • Allowance of the exercise of judgment doesn't violate the 4th Amdt.
    • PD needs to have inventory policy or else it's NOT an inventory search
    • Pretext only if outside scope of defined policy -- inventory search can't be used as a ruse for general rummaging

 

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