Brinegar v. U.S Case Brief

Search and Seizure Case Briefs
By Kentucky Justice & Public Safety Cabinet
Jul 19, 2001

Brinegar v. U.S., 338 U.S. 160, 69 S.Ct. 1302 (1949)

FACTS: On March 3, 1947, Malsed, an investigator with the Alcohol Tax Unit (Oklahoma) and another officer, were parked on a highway in northeastern Oklahoma, about five miles from the Missouri state line. They spotted Brinegar driving past. Malsed had arrested him some months before for illegally hauling liquor in Oklahoma, a dry state, from Missouri, a wet state. In at least two other instances, he had spotted Brinegar in Joplin, Missouri, placing large quantities of liquor into his trunk, and knew Brinegar to have a reputation as a bootlegger.

As the car passed, both agents noticed that the car appeared to be “heavily loaded” and “weighted down with something,” and that it increased in speed. They gave chase, overtook the car and crowded it off the road. (The road ran between Joplin, Missouri and Vinita, Oklahoma, Brinegar’s hometown.)

Upon approaching the car, Malsed asked Brinegar how much liquor he had in the car. Brinegar replied to the effect, “not much.” On further questioning, Brinegar admitted to having twelve cases. Malsed testified that he saw one case in the front seat, but Brinegar testified that it was covered with a blanket. Upon searching, the agents found twelve cases under and behind the front seat. Brinegar was arrested.

Brinegar challenged the validity of the search, and the District Court found that there was no probable cause for the warrantless search.

ISSUE: Given the facts, was probable cause present for the search and subsequent arrest?

HOLDING: Yes

DISCUSSION: The Court disagreed with the lower court’s finding “that the facts within the knowledge of the investigators and of which they had reasonable trustworthy information prior to the time the incriminating statements were made by Brinegar were not sufficient to lead a reasonable discreet and prudent man to believe that intoxicating liquor was being transporting in the coupe, and did not constitute probably cause for a search.”