Search and Seizure - Single Purpose Container Exception

Favorable and Noteworthy Decisions in the Supreme Court and Federal Appellate Courts
By Don Samuel
Garland, Samuel & Loeb, P.C.
Sep 1, 2015

United States v. Gust, 405 F.3d 797 (9th Cir. 2005)

The “single-purpose container” exception to the search warrant requirement traces its origin to Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U.S. 753 (1979), which noted that certain containers may be searched without a warrant, because their contents are so apparent, for example, a gun case. In a later decision, Robbins v. California, 453 U.S. 420 (1981), the Court observed that this principle was closely related to the plain view doctrine. Robbins was later overruled in United States v. Ross, 456 U.S. 798 (1982). In this case, the Ninth Circuit held that the question of whether a container satisfies this standard should be viewed from the lay person’s point of view, not the viewpoint of a trained law enforcement officer, because the issue focuses on the defendant’s expectation of privacy. The court concluded that the container in this case could not be readily identified as a gun case and, therefore, the warrantless search was unlawful.