Florida v. Jimeno/Opinion of the Court

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Florida v. Jimeno by William Rehnquist
Opinion of the Court
Court Documents
Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Marshall

In this case we decide whether a criminal suspect's Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches is violated when, after he gives a police officer permission to search his automobile, the officer opens a closed container found within the car that might reasonably hold the object of the search . We find that it is not. The Fourth Amendment is satisfied when, under the circumstances, it is objectively reasonable for the officer to believe that the scope of the suspect's consent permitted him to open a particular container within the automobile.

This case began when a Dade County police officer, Frank Trujillo, overheard respondent, Enio Jimeno, arranging what appeared to be a drug transaction over a public telephone. Believing that respondent might be involved in illegal drug trafficking, Officer Trujillo followed his car. The officer observed respondent make a right turn at a red light without stopping. He then pulled respondent over to the side of the road in order to issue him a traffic citation. Officer Trujillo told respondent that he had been stopped for committing a traffic infraction. The officer went on to say that he had reason to believe that respondent was carrying narcotics in his car, and asked permission to search the car. He explained that respondent did not have to consent to a search of the car. Respondent stated that he had nothing to hide, and gave Trujillo permission to search the automobile. After two passengers stepped out of respondent's car, Officer Trujillo went to the passenger side, opened the door, and saw a folded, brown paper bag on the floorboard. The officer picked up the bag, opened it, and found a kilogram of cocaine inside.

Respondent was charged with possession with intent to distribute cocaine in violation of Florida law. Before trial, he moved to suppress the cocaine found in the bag on the ground that his consent to search the car did not extend to the closed paper bag inside of the car. The trial court granted the motion. It found that although respondent "could have assumed that the officer would have searched the bag" at the time he gave his consent, his mere consent to search the car did not carry with it specific consent to open the bag and examine its contents. No. 88-23967 (Cir.Ct. Dade Cty., Fla., Mar. 21, 1989); App. to Pet. for Cert. A-6.

The Florida District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's decision to suppress the evidence of the cocaine. 550 So.2d 1176 (Fla. 3d DCA 1989). In doing so, the court established a per se rule that "consent to a general search for narcotics does not extend to 'sealed containers within the general area agreed to by the defendant.' " Ibid. (citation omitted). The Florida Supreme Court affirmed, relying upon its decision in State v. Wells, 539 So.2d 464 (1989) aff'd on other grounds, 495 U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 1632, 109 L.Ed.2d 1 (1990). 564 So.2d 1083 (1990). We granted certiorari to determine whether consent to search a vehicle may extend to closed containers found inside the vehicle. 498 U.S. ----, 111 S.Ct. 554, 112 L.Ed.2d 561 (1990), and we now reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida.

The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 , 360, 88 S.Ct. 507, 516, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967). The Fourth Amendment does not proscribe all state-initiated searches and seizures; it merely proscribes those which are unreasonable. Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 2793, 111 L.Ed.2d 148 (1990). Thus, we have long approved consensual searches because it is no doubt reasonable for the police to conduct a search once they have been permitted to do so. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, 412 U.S. 218 , 219, 93 S.Ct. 2041, 2043, 36 L.Ed.2d 854 (1973). The standard for measuring the scope of a suspect's consent under the Fourth Amendment is that of "objective" reasonableness—what would the typical reasonable person have understood by the exchange between the officer and the suspect? Illinois v. Rodriguez, supra, at ---- - ----, 110 S.Ct., at 2798-2802; Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491 , 501-502, 103 S.Ct. 1319, 1326-1327, 75 L.Ed.2d 229 (1983) (opinion of WHITE, J.); id., at 514, 103 S.Ct., at 1332 (BLACKMUN, J., dissenting). The question before us, then, is whether it is reasonable for an officer to consider a suspect's general consent to a search of his car to include consent to examine a paper bag lying on the floor of the car. We think that it is.

The scope of a search is generally defined by its expressed object. United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798 , 102 S.Ct. 2157, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982). In this case, the terms of the search 's authorization were simple. Respondent granted Officer Trujillo permission to search his car, and did not place any explicit limitation on the scope of the search . Trujillo had informed respondent that he believed respondent was carrying narcotics, and that he would be looking for narcotics in the car. We think that it was objectively reasonable for the police to conclude that the general consent to search respondent's car included consent to search containers within that car which might bear drugs. A reasonable person may be expected to know that narcotics are generally carried in some form of a container. "Contraband goods rarely are strewn across the trunk or floor of a car." Id., at 820, 102 S.Ct., at 2170. The authorization to search in this case, therefore, extended beyond the surfaces of the car's interior to the paper bag lying on the car's floor.

The facts of this case are therefore different from those in State v. Wells, supra, on which the Supreme Court of Florida relied in affirming the suppression order in this case. There the Supreme Court of Florida held that consent to search the trunk of a car did not include authorization to pry open a locked briefcase found inside the trunk. It is very likely unreasonable to think that a suspect, by consenting to the search of his trunk, has agreed to the breaking open of a locked briefcase within the trunk, but it is otherwise with respect to a closed paper bag.

Respondent argues, and the Florida trial court agreed with him, that if the police wish to search closed containers within a car they must separately request permission to search each container. But we see no basis for adding this sort of superstructure to the Fourth Amendment's basic test of objective reasonableness. Cf. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U.S. 213 , 103 S.Ct. 2317, 76 L.Ed.2d 527 (1983). A suspect may of course delimit as he chooses the scope of the search to which he consents. But if his consent would reasonably be understood to extend to a particular container, the Fourth Amendment provides no grounds for requiring a more explicit authorization. "[T]he community has a real interest in encouraging consent, for the resulting search may yield necessary evidence for the solution and prosecution of crime, evidence that may ensure that a wholly innocent person is not wrongly charged with a criminal offense." Schneckloth v. Bustamonte, supra, at 243, 93 S.Ct., at 2056.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Florida is accordingly reversed, and the case remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

It is so ordered.

Notes[edit]


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).