Criminal Procedure, Pages 236–240

South Dakota v. Opperman

1976

Facts:

Defendant parked in a restricted downtown area at an impermissible time. At 3 a.m. it was issued a ticket, and at 10 a.m. it was given another and towed to the city impound lot. There, it was inventoried as usual, and marijuana was found in the unlocked glovebox. Defendant showed up at the police department to claim his car and was arrested for the drugs.

Procedural History:

  • Defendant's motion to suppress the evidence was denied, and he was convicted.

  • Court of appeals held that the inventory violated the Fourth Amendment and therefore reversed.

Issue:

Do inventories of impounded vehicles violate the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches?

Reasoning:

Police have authority impound vehicles. When they do so, they usually inventory the vehicle to protect the owner's property, to protect police from the liability of being accused of theft, and to protect police from dangerous items in the vehicle. The policies underlying the warrant requirement do not apply in such cases.

Rule/Holding:

Routine inventories subject to standard police procedure are reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.

Judgment:

Reversed.

Dissenting Opinion:

Marshall: Police only claimed that they inventoried to secure valuable, but they also inventory vehicle when valuables are not seen inside. A blanket safety argument would not support this even if it was a valid basis for a search. They were not inventorying the car for safety reasons. Also, this department would not be liable for items not in plain view in a locked car, so that cannot justify this. This is too broad to be permissive under the Constitution.

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