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Harris v. United States

U.S.
Mar 5, 1968
390 U.S. 234 (1968)

Summary

holding seizure of evidence in 'plain view' reasonable under Fourth Amendment

Summary of this case from United States v. Manarite

Opinion

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT.

No. 92.

Argued January 18, 1968. Decided March 5, 1968.

Pursuant to a departmental regulation, a police officer searched an impounded car held as evidence of a robbery. The search completed, the officer opened the car door for the purpose of rolling up a window and thus protecting the car and its contents. On opening the door, the officer saw, exposed to plain view, the automobile registration card belonging to the victim of the robbery. This card was used as evidence in petitioner's trial. Petitioner's conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals over his contention that the card had been illegally seized following a warrantless search. Held: The card was subject to seizure and introducible in evidence since it was not discovered by means of a search in the technical sense, but was plainly visible to the officer who had a right to be in a position of viewing it.

125 U.S.App.D.C. 231, 370 F.2d 477, affirmed.

Paul H. Weinstein argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the brief was Laurence Levitan.

Francis X. Beytagh, Jr., argued the cause for the United States. On the brief were Acting Solicitor General Spritzer, Assistant Attorney General Vinson, Beatrice Rosenberg and Julia P. Cooper.


Petitioner was charged with robbery under the District of Columbia Code. D.C. Code Ann. § 22-2901. At his trial in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, petitioner moved to suppress an automobile registration card belonging to the robbery victim, which the Government sought to introduce in evidence. The trial court, after a hearing, ruled that the card was admissible. Petitioner was convicted of the crime charged and sentenced to imprisonment for a period of two to seven years. On appeal, a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the card had been obtained by means of an unlawful search. The Government's petition for rehearing en banc was, however, granted, and the full Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction, with two judges dissenting. We granted certiorari to consider the problem presented under the Fourth Amendment. 386 U.S. 1003 (1967). We affirm.

Petitioner's automobile had been seen leaving the site of the robbery. The car was traced and petitioner was arrested as he was entering it, near his home. After a cursory search of the car, the arresting officer took petitioner to a police station. The police decided to impound the car as evidence, and a crane was called to tow it to the precinct. It reached the precinct about an hour and a quarter after petitioner. At this moment, the windows of the car were open and the door unlocked. It had begun to rain.

A regulation of the Metropolitan Police Department requires the officer who takes an impounded vehicle in charge to search the vehicle thoroughly, to remove all valuables from it, and to attach to the vehicle a property tag listing certain information about the circumstances of the impounding. Pursuant to this regulation, and without a warrant, the arresting officer proceeded to the lot to which petitioner's car had been towed, in order to search the vehicle, to place a property tag on it, to roll up the windows, and to lock the doors. The officer entered on the driver's side, searched the car, and tied a property tag on the steering wheel. Stepping out of the car, he rolled up an open window on one of the back doors. Proceeding to the front door on the passenger side, the officer opened the door in order to secure the window and door. He then saw the registration card, which lay face up on the metal stripping over which the door closes. The officer returned to the precinct, brought petitioner to the car, and confronted petitioner with the registration card. Petitioner disclaimed all knowledge of the card. The officer then seized the card and brought it into the precinct. Returning to the car, he searched the trunk, rolled up the windows, and locked the doors.

The sole question for our consideration is whether the officer discovered the registration card by means of an illegal search. We hold that he did not. The admissibility of evidence found as a result of a search under the police regulation is not presented by this case. The precise and detailed findings of the District Court, accepted by the Court of Appeals, were to the effect that the discovery of the card was not the result of a search of the car, but of a measure taken to protect the car while it was in police custody. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment requires the police to obtain a warrant in these narrow circumstances.

Once the door had lawfully been opened, the registration card, with the name of the robbery victim on it, was plainly visible. It has long been settled that objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence. Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 42-43 (1963); United States v. Lee, 274 U.S. 559 (1927); Hester v. United States, 265 U.S. 57 (1924).

Affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.


Though Preston v. United States, 376 U.S. 364, is not mentioned in the Court's opinion, I assume it has survived because in the present case (1) the car was lawfully in police custody, and the police were responsible for protecting the car; (2) while engaged in the performance of their duty to protect the car, and not engaged in an inventory or other search of the car, they came across incriminating evidence.


Summaries of

Harris v. United States

U.S.
Mar 5, 1968
390 U.S. 234 (1968)

holding seizure of evidence in 'plain view' reasonable under Fourth Amendment

Summary of this case from United States v. Manarite

finding no illegality in police's decision to seize as evidence a vehicle seen leaving the scene of a robbery

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Hill

finding an object in plain view may be seized if the officer has a right to be in the position to have that view and a right of access to the object itself

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Chaney

finding that once door to vehicle had been lawfully opened, registration card in plain view was legally seized

Summary of this case from Gomez v. State

upholding search where “discovery of the card was not the result of a search of the car, but of a measure taken to protect the car while it was in police custody”

Summary of this case from United States v. Rivera

upholding search where “discovery of the card was not the result of a search of the car, but of a measure taken to protect the car while it was in police custody”

Summary of this case from United States v. Rivera

In Harris the justification for the initial intrusion into the vehicle was to safeguard the owner's property, and in Cooper it was to guarantee the safety of the custodians.

Summary of this case from Cady v. Dombrowski

In Harris, petitioner was arrested for robbery. As petitioner's car had been identified leaving the site of the robbery, it was impounded as evidence.

Summary of this case from Cady v. Dombrowski

In Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 235 (1968), the defendant's vehicle was seized at the time of his arrest for robbery. A department regulation required the office in charge of the impounded vehicle to search it thoroughly, remove all the valuables, and attach an inventory tag on it.

Summary of this case from United States v. Metts

noting that an item is in plain view if it is observed by an officer standing in a place where he is legally entitled to be

Summary of this case from U.S. v. Davis

opening car door to roll up window against rain

Summary of this case from United States v. Wheeler

In Harris, after the arresting officer, without a warrant, searched the impounded vehicle and tied a property tag on it, as required by a police department regulation, he then proceeded to close the windows and lock the doors in order to protect the car and its contents.

Summary of this case from United States v. Woods

In Harris, the Court wrote that "objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence."

Summary of this case from United States v. Johnson

In Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1968), relied on by the Court in Cady, the automobile "had been identified leaving the site of the robbery" and "was impounded as evidence."

Summary of this case from United States v. Zaicek

supporting the seizure of the check under the plain view doctrine

Summary of this case from United States v. Masterson

In Harris, evidence in plain view of a police officer, who was taking reasonable steps for the protection of the car, was held admissible.

Summary of this case from United States v. Lawson

In Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1968) the Supreme Court approved reasonable police conduct which protected an impounded car.

Summary of this case from United States v. Mitchell

In Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1968), extensively quoted by the majority, the Supreme Court conclusively held that property found in plain view by a police officer securing an impounded vehicle may constitutionally be seized.

Summary of this case from United States v. Mitchell

In Harris, the door was lawfully opened in conformity with a regulation which required police to search the vehicle thoroughly, to remove all valuables and to attach to the vehicle a property tag listing certain information.

Summary of this case from Kendrick v. Nelson

In Harris the officer's presence in the car was lawful — he was engaged in protecting the car by rolling up the windows and locking the doors.

Summary of this case from Heffley v. Hocker

In Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1968), the original opening of the car was lawful.

Summary of this case from United States v. Rosenberg

In Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067, the Court recently stated "It has long been settled that objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure and may be introduced in evidence.

Summary of this case from Schutz v. United States

explaining that the Fourth Amendment does not require a warrant in the narrow circumstance of searches conducted pursuant to police regulation, taken to protect the car while in police custody

Summary of this case from United States v. Pritchard

noting that the purpose of an inventory search was not to search the car but to "protect the car while in police custody. Nothing in the Fourth Amendment requires the police to obtain a warrant in these special circumstances."

Summary of this case from United States v. Gullo

In Harris [v. United States, 390 U.S. 234, 88 S.Ct. 992, 19 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1968)] the justification for the initial intrusion into the vehicle was to safeguard the owner's property, and in Cooper [v. California, 386 U.S. 58, 87 S.Ct. 788, 17 L.Ed.2d 730 (1967),] it was to guarantee the safety of the custodians.

Summary of this case from Resley v. Holmes
Case details for

Harris v. United States

Case Details

Full title:HARRIS v . UNITED STATES

Court:U.S.

Date published: Mar 5, 1968

Citations

390 U.S. 234 (1968)
88 S. Ct. 992

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