South Dakota v. Opperman

South Dakota v. Opperman

United States Supreme Court
482 U.S. 364 (1976)

ISSUE: Was a standard inventory search of the contents of a car that was impounded for multiple parking violations unreasonable under the 4th Amdt. if officers found marijuana in the glove box?
HOLDING: No, 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 4th Amdt.
  • D left his car illegally parked on a public street and it was ticketed twice for overtime parking
  • The car was then towed to a police impound lot where the contents were inventoried on a standard inventory form
  • Marijuana was found in the unlocked glove box
  • Reasons for vehicle exception:
    1. Inherent mobility creates an exigent circumstance
    2. Pervasive governmental regulation and controls reduce the expectation of privacy
  • Reasons for inventorying contents:
    1. Protection of the owner's property while it remains in police custody
    2. Protection of the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property
    3. Protection of the police from potential danger
  • Valid caretaking search: Police were engaged in a caretaking search of a lawfully impounded vehicle, so it was reasonable
    • No suggestion that it was a pretext for concealing an investigatory police motive


  • Opperman does not give police carte blance to search every vehicle in the name of an "inventory search." Since an inventory search is not justified by an objective criterion like probable cause or reasonable suspicion, one may inquire into pretext. The inventory search must be performed pursuant to the community caretaking doctrine and not as a pretext for general rummaging.
  • The law enforcement agency needs an inventory policy in order to justify an inventory search. See Florida v. Wells after my brief of Colorado v. Bertine.


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