COOLIDGE V. NEW HAMPSHIRE, 403 U. S. 443 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443 (1971)

Coolidge v. New Hampshire

No. 323

Argued January 12, 1971

Decided June 21, 1971

403 U.S. 443


Police went to petitioner's home on January 28, 1964, to question him about a murder. In the course of their inquiry, he showed them three guns, and he agreed to take a lie detector test on February 2. The test was inconclusive on the murder, but, during its course, petitioner admitted a theft. In petitioner's absence, two other policemen came to the house and questioned petitioner's wife to check petitioner's story and corroborate his admission of the theft. Unaware of the visit of the other officers who had been shown the guns and knowing little about the murder weapon, the police asked about any guns there might be in the house, and were shown four by petitioner's wife which she offered to let them take. After one policeman first declined the offer, they took the guns, along with various articles of petitioner's clothing his wife made available to them. On February 19, petitioner was arrested in his house for the murder, and, on that date, a warrant to search petitioner's automobile was applied for by the police chief and issued by the Attorney General (who had assumed charge of the investigation and was later the chief prosecutor at the trial), acting as a justice of the peace. The car, which, at the time of the arrest, was parked in petitioner's driveway, was subsequently towed to the police station, where, on February 21 and on two occasions the next year, it was searched. Vacuum sweepings from the car as well as from the clothing were used as evidence at the trial, along with one of the guns made available by petitioner's wife. Following the overruling of pretrial motions to suppress that evidence, petitioner was convicted, and the State Supreme Court affirmed.


1. The warrant for the search and seizure of petitioner's automobile did not satisfy the requirements of the Fourth Amendment, as made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth, because it was not issued by a "neutral and detached magistrate." Johnson v. United States, 333 U. S. 10, 333 U. S. 14. Pp. 449-453.

2. The basic constitutional rule is that

"searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment -- subject only to a few specifically established and well

Page 403 U. S. 444

defined exceptions,"

and, on the facts of this case, a warrantless search and seizure of the car cannot be justified under those exceptions. Pp. 403 U. S. 453-482.

(a) The seizure of the car in the driveway cannot be justified as incidental to the arrest, which took place inside the house. Even assuming, arguendo, that the police could properly have made a warrantless search of the car in the driveway when they arrested petitioner, they could not have done so at their leisure after its removal. Pp. 403 U. S. 455-457.

(b) Under the circumstances present here -- where the police for some time had known of the probable role of the car in the crime, petitioner had had ample opportunity to destroy incriminating evidence, the house was guarded at the time of arrest and petitioner had no access to the car -- there were no exigent circumstances justifying the warrantless search even had it been made before the car was taken to the police station, and the special exceptions for automobile searches in Carroll v. United States, 267 U. S. 132, and Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U. S. 42, are clearly inapplicable. Cf. Dyke v. Taylor Implement Mfg. Co., 391 U. S. 216. Pp. 403 U. S. 458-464.

(c) Under certain circumstances, the police may, without a warrant seize, evidence in "plain view," though not for that reason alone, and only when the discovery of the evidence is inadvertent. That exception is inapplicable to the facts of the instant case, where the police had ample opportunity to obtain a valid warrant, knew in advance the car's description and location, intended to seize it when they entered on petitioner's property, and no contraband or dangerous objects were involved. Pp. 403 U. S. 464-473.

3. No search and seizure were implicated in the February 2 visit when the police obtained the guns and clothing from petitioner's wife, and hence they needed no warrant. The police, who exerted no effort to coerce or dominate her, were not obligated to refuse her offer for them to take the guns, and, in making these and the other items available to the police, she was not acting as the instrument or agent of the police. Pp. 403 U. S. 484-490.

109 N.H. 403, 260 A.2d 547, reversed and remanded.

STEWART, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J. (as to Part III), and HARLAN (as to Parts I, II-D, and III), DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. HARLAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 403 U. S. 490. BURGER, C.J.,filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, post, p. 403 U. S. 492. BLACK, J., filed a concurring chanrobles.com-red

Page 403 U. S. 445

and dissenting opinion, in a portion of Part I and in Parts II and III of which BURGER, C.J.,and BLACKMUN, J., joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 493. WHITE, J., filed a concurring and dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J.,joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 510.


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