New York v. Burger

482 U.S. 691 (1987)


Burger (D) owned a junkyard. D dismantles automobiles and sells their parts. His junkyard is an open lot with no buildings. A high metal fence surrounds it. Officers entered the junkyard to conduct an inspection pursuant to N. Y. Veh. & Traf. Law § 415-a5. They asked to see D's license and his 'police book' - the record of the automobiles and vehicle parts in his possession. Burger replied that he had neither a license nor a police book. The officers then announced their intention to conduct a § 415-a5 inspection. D did not object. It was determined that D was in possession of stolen vehicles and parts. D was arrested and charged with five counts of possession of stolen property and one count of unregistered operation as a vehicle dismantler. D moved to suppress the evidence obtained as a result of the inspection, contending that § 415-a5 was unconstitutional. The court denied the motion. The junkyard business was a 'pervasively regulated' industry in which warrantless administrative inspections were appropriate, that the statute was properly limited in 'time, place and scope,' and that, once the officers had reasonable cause to believe that certain vehicles and parts were stolen, they could arrest D and seize the property without a warrant. The New York Court of Appeals reversed. The statute violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. It authorized searches undertaken solely to uncover evidence of criminality and not to enforce a comprehensive regulatory scheme. The alleged `administrative scheme was designed simply to give the police an expedient means of enforcing penal sanctions for possession of stolen property. The statute does little more than authorize general searches, including those conducted by the police, of certain commercial premises. The Supreme Court granted certiorari.