CALIFORNIA v. ACEVEDO

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Case Basics
Docket No. 
89-1690
Petitioner 
California
Respondent 
Acevedo
Advocates
(on behalf of the Petitioner)
(on behalf of the Respondent)
Tags
Term:
Location: Acevedo's Car
Facts of the Case 

California police officers saw Charles Acevedo enter an apartment known to contain several packages of marijuana and leave a short time later carrying a paper bag approximately the same size as one of the packages. When Acevedo put the bag in the trunk of his car and began to drive away, the officers stopped the car, searched the bag, and found marijuana. At his trial, Avecedo made a motion to suppress the marijuana as evidence, since the police had not had a search warrant. When the trial court denied his motion, Acevedo pleaded guilty and appealed the denial of the motion. The California Court of Appeal reversed the trial court, ruling that the marijuana should have been suppressed as evidence. The Supreme Court had ruled previously that officers can thoroughly search an automobile if they have probable cause to believe there is evidence somewhere in the vehicle (U.S. v. Ross), and also that officers need a warrant to search a closed container (U.S. v. Chadwick). The California Court of Appeal decided that the latter case was more relevant. Since the officers only had probable cause to believe the bag contained evidence - not the car generally - they could not open the bag without a search warrant. The California Supreme Court denied review, but the Supreme Court granted the State's petition.

Question 

Under the Fourth Amendment, may police conduct a warrantless search of a container within an automobile if they have probable cause to believe that the container holds evidence?

Conclusion 
Decision: 6 votes for California, 3 vote(s) against
Legal provision: Amendment 4: Fourth Amendment

Yes. In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, the Court reversed the Court of Appeal and ruled that the "automobile exception" to the Fourth Amendment's general search-warrant requirement is broad enough to cover a situation where the police only have probable cause to believe there is evidence in a specific movable container within the car. The Court noted that the warrant requirement previously had depended on a "curious line between the search of an automobile that coincidentally turns up a container and the search of a container that coincidentally turns up in an automobile." In place of that uncertain distinction, the Court adopted a single rule: "The police may search an automobile and the containers within it where they have probable cause to believe contraband or evidence is contained." Justices White, Stevens, and Marshall dissented.

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CALIFORNIA v. ACEVEDO. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 June 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1990/1990_89_1690/>.
CALIFORNIA v. ACEVEDO, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1990/1990_89_1690/ (last visited June 20, 2014).
"CALIFORNIA v. ACEVEDO," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed June 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1990-1999/1990/1990_89_1690/.