California v. Acevedo

500 U.S. 565 (1991)


Officers in Santa Ana got a call from a federal drug enforcement agent in Hawaii. The feds had seized a package containing marijuana which was to have been delivered to the Federal Express Office in Santa Ana and which was addressed to J.R. Daza at 805 West Stevens Avenue. The agent arranged to send the package to the police. The police then took the package to Federal Express to lie in wait and arrest the person who arrived to claim it. Daza arrived to claim the package. He accepted it and drove to his apartment on West Stevens. He carried the package into the apartment. When Daza left the apartment, he dropped the box and paper that had contained the marijuana into a trash bin. Officers applied for a search warrant. Officers saw Richard St. George leave the apartment carrying a blue knapsack which appeared to be half full. The officers stopped him as he was driving off, searched the knapsack, and found 1 1/2 pounds of marijuana. At 12:30 p.m., Acevedo (D) arrived. He entered Daza's apartment, stayed for about 10 minutes, and reappeared carrying a brown paper bag that looked full. The officers noticed that the bag was the size of one of the wrapped marijuana packages sent from Hawaii. D walked to a silver Honda in the parking lot. He placed the bag in the trunk of the car and started to drive away. The police stopped him. They opened the trunk and the bag and found marijuana. At trial, D moved to suppress the marijuana found in the car. The motion was denied. D pleaded guilty but appealed the denial of the suppression motion. The Court of Appeal concluded that the marijuana found in the paper bag in the car's trunk should have been suppressed. The officers had probable cause to believe that the paper bag contained drugs, but lacked probable cause to suspect that Acevedo's car, itself, otherwise contained contraband. The court agreed that the officers could seize the paper bag, but held that they could not open the bag without first obtaining a warrant for that purpose. The court then recognized 'the anomalous nature' of the dichotomy between the rule in Chadwick and the rule in Ross. It dictates that, if there is probable cause to search a car, then the entire car - including any closed container found therein - may be searched without a warrant, but if there is probable cause only as to a container in the car, the container may be held, but not searched, until a warrant is obtained. The Supreme Court of California denied the State's petition for review. The Supreme Court granted certiorari to reexamine the law applicable to a closed container in an automobile.