U.S. Supreme Court
Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367 (1987)
Colorado v. Bertine
Argued November 10, 1986
Decided January 14, 1987
479 U.S. 367
A Boulder, Colorado, police officer arrested respondent for driving his van while under the influence of alcohol. After respondent was taken into custody and before a tow truck arrived to take the van to an impoundment lot, another officer, acting in accordance with local police procedures, inventoried the van's contents, opening a closed backpack in which he found various containers holding controlled substances, cocaine paraphernalia, and a large amount of cash. Prior to his trial on charges including drug offenses, the state trial court granted respondent's motion to suppress the evidence found during the inventory search. Although the court determined that the search did not violate respondent's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the Federal Constitution, it held that the search violated the Colorado Constitution. The Colorado Supreme Court affirmed, but premised its ruling on the Federal Constitution.
Held: The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the State from proving the criminal charges with the evidence discovered during the inventory search of respondent's van. This case is controlled by the principles governing inventory searches of automobiles and of an arrestee's personal effects, as set forth in South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U. S. 364, and Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U. S. 640, rather than those governing searches of closed trunks and suitcases conducted solely for the purpose of investigating criminal conduct. United States v. Chadwick, 433 U. S. 1, and Arkansas v. Sanders, 442 U. S. 753, distinguished. The policies behind the warrant requirement, and the related concept of probable cause, are not implicated in an inventory search, which serves the strong governmental interests in protecting an owner's property while it is in police custody, insuring against claims of lost, stolen, or vandalized property, and guarding the police from danger. There was no showing here that the police, who were following standardized caretaking procedures, acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation. Police, before inventorying a container, are not required to weigh the strength of the individual's privacy interest in the container against the possibility that the container might serve as a repository for dangerous or valuable items. There is no merit to the contention that the search of respondent's van was unconstitutional because departmental regulations gave the police discretion to choose between impounding the van and parking chanroblesvirtualawlibrary
and locking it in a public parking place. The exercise of police discretion is not prohibited so long as that discretion is exercised -- as was done here -- according to standard criteria and on the basis of something other than suspicion of evidence of criminal activity. Pp. 479 U. S. 371-376.
706 P.2d 411, reversed.
REHNQUIST, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which POWELL and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 376. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 479 U. S. 377.