Colorado v. Bertine
479 U.S. 367, 107 S. Ct. 738, 93 L. Ed.2d 739 (1987)

  • Bertine was arrested for drunk driving. Since he couldn’t drive home, the police towed his van to the impound lot.
  • At the impound lot the police performed an administrative search of van for inventory purposes. Inside a backpack in the van, they found a pile of drugs. Bertine was arrest for drug possession.
  • At trial, Bertine made a motion to suppress on the grounds that the police did not have probable cause or a warrant to search his bag.
    • Therefore the search was a violation of the 4th Amendment.
  • The Trial Judge granted the motion and dismissed the case. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Trial Judge based his opinion on the Colorado Constitution.
  • The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The Colorado Supreme Court based their decision on the 4th Amendment.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and found that the search was not a violation of the 4th Amendment.
    • The US Supreme Court found that reasonable police regulations relating to inventory procedures administered in good faith do not result in a violation of the 4th Amendment.
    • The Court found that an inventory search is reasonable, because it deters theft and is protects the police from potentially dangerous objects left in cars.
    • The Court noted that searches conducted primarily for reasons other than law enforcement do not require probable cause.
      • “The standard of probable cause is peculiarly related to criminal investigation, not routine, non-criminal procedures.”
      • “The probable cause approach is unhelpful when analysis centers upon the reasonableness of administrative caretaking function, particularly when no claim is made that the protective procedures are a subterfuge for criminal investigations.”
    • The Court noted that the search was standard for everyone who’s car entered the impound lot, and no one was being singled out.
      • If there was a discretionary component to which cars got searched, the program would probably have not been legal.
    • Note that the Court recognized that the search must still be reasonable, its just that reasonable is not defined as having probable cause.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that Bertine had a reasonable expectation of privacy that his backpack would not be searched and that the government’s interest in its administrative procedures was outweighed by Bertine’s expectation.
  • Technically, the policeman who arrested Bertine could have looked in the bag anyway, as a search incident to lawful arrest.