Arkansas v. Sander

442 U.S. 753, 99 S. Ct. 2586 (1979)



Not all containers and packages found by police during the course of a search will deserve the full protection of the Fourth Amendment. Thus, some containers (for example a kit of burglar tools or a gun case) by their very nature cannot support any reasonable expectation of privacy because their contents can be inferred from their outward appearance. Similarly, in some cases the contents of a package will be open to "plain view," thereby obviating the need for a warrant. There are difficulties in determining which parcels taken from an automobile require a warrant for their search and which do not. A warrant generally is required before personal luggage can be searched and the extent to which the U.S. Const. amend. XIV applies to containers and other parcels depends not at all upon whether they are seized from an automobile.


After an informant told them that a suspect would arrive on a flight to the local airport carrying a green suitcase containing marijuana, Little Rock, Arkansas, police officers placed the airport under surveillance and watched as the suspect, arriving as the informant had predicted, retrieved from the airline luggage service a green suitcase matching the informant's description. The suitcase was placed in a taxi, and the suspect was driven away. Thereafter, the officers stopped the taxi, and at their request the taxi driver opened the trunk of his vehicle, where the officers found the green suitcase. Without asking the permission of the suspect or his companion, the police opened the unlocked suitcase and discovered marijuana. Before his trial in an Arkansas state court on a charge of possession of marijuana with intent to deliver, the suspect moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the suitcase, contending that the search violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. The trial court denied the motion, and the suspect was convicted. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed the conviction, ruling that the trial court should have suppressed the marijuana because it was obtained through an unlawful search of the suitcase.


Should the marijuana be suppressed as evidence because its seizure was allegedly obtained through an unlawful search of the suspect’s suitcase?




The U.S. Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment required a search warrant unless the prosecution could prove that the warrantless search fell within one of the exceptions provided for warrantless searches. The court further held that the automobile exception, which was based on the mobility of automobiles, the burden of transporting and caring for automobiles if seized, and the exigent circumstances of a roadside stop, did not apply to a suitcase, even though contained in the trunk of the car which was in the control of police. The court further held that the Fourth Amendment required the police to obtain a warrant for a search of the suitcase because defendant had an expectation of privacy in the contents of the suitcase.

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