Arkansas v. Sanders

LOCATION: Collision between Mr. Montrym’s car and motorcycle

DOCKET NO.: 77-1497
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Arkansas Supreme Court

CITATION: 442 US 753 (1979)
ARGUED: Feb 27, 1979
DECIDED: Jun 20, 1979

Jack T. Lassiter - By appointment of the Court, argued the cause for the respondent
Joseph H. Purvis - Argued the cause for the petitioner pro hac vice

Facts of the case

Local police in Little Rock, Arkansas received a tip that an individual would be arriving at the airport with a suitcase containing a significant quantity of marijuana. Upon arriving, the suspect retrieved his suitcase and left in a taxi. The police officers pursued and stopped the taxi, and ordered the driver to open the trunk which revealed the suitcase in question. The police opened the suitcase without obtaining permission from its owner and found nearly ten pounds of marijuana.


Did the warrantless search of the suitcase by the police violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments which prohibit unreasonable searches?

Media for Arkansas v. Sanders

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 1979 in Arkansas v. Sanders

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Arkansas against Sanders.

Mr. Purvis, I think you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Joseph H. Purvis:

Thank you.

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

I would like to reserve approximately 10 minutes of my time, if I might, at the end for rebuttal.

The issue here before this Court is whether this Court is going to extend its holding in United States versus Chadwick so as to prevent law officers who are in the process of conducting a valid automobile exception search from searching luggage which is found within the vehicle.

Now, it appears to me that, from the facts here, there are -- there is no question but that what we have here is an automobile search.

Digressing a little bit, this Court has held in Carol, in Chadwick, and in other cases that it will recognize an exemption to the Fourth Amendment Warrant Clause where there is probable cause to believe a vehicle contains contraband and it is coupled or the situation is coupled with exigent circumstances.

Now --

Warren E. Burger:

What are the exigent circumstances here that distinguish it from Chadwick?

You'll tell us about that?

Joseph H. Purvis:

Mr. Justice, I think we're clearly talking apples and oranges and I think, in Chadwick, this Court made it extremely plain, mentioning several times, that it did not deal with nor was it confronted with an automobile exception search.

The automobile exception in Chadwick was not raised in the Court of Appeal, nor was it brought before this Court.

What you had there was a situation where the officers had made the arrest and had seized a 200-pound double-lock footlocker which was about to be placed into the trunk of a parked car with its engine not running with the trunk open.

But, the search did not take place there.

It was after the officers reduced both the defendant and the footlocker to their exclusive control and took both to the federal building in Boston where they kept them for an hour-and-a half before doing the search that led this Court, I believe, to say, in no stretch of the imagination, “can we see exigent circumstances?”

Here, on the other hand, we are faced with a search -- we are faced, first of all, with a defendant and a confederate whose existence the officers did not know until they saw him meet up at the baggage area of the airport.

These individuals leave the baggage area of the Little Rock Airport, which incidentally is immediately adjacent to the door where the cabs are.

They im -- leave the baggage area.

They climb into a taxicab which is moving down one of the busiest there affairs in town, away from the airport at 5:00 in rush hour traffic on Friday afternoon after the Courts have closed for the weekend to some point unknown.

John Paul Stevens:

General Purvis, if I understand your theory correctly, in Chadwick you would say the automobile exception would've applied if the agents have waited a few moments until they put the footlocker into the trunk of the car and then started the motor.

Is that right?

Joseph H. Purvis:

I think it possibly would've, but I think, certainly, when you are speaking of a 200-pound double lock footlocker --

John Paul Stevens:

Well, it still would've fit in the trunk, I think.

Joseph H. Purvis:

Yes, sir.

John Paul Stevens:

And if they'd started the motor, it'd be precisely like this car.

And in your example about this case, the car wasn't moving when they got in.

The taxi wasn't moving when they put the suitcase into the taxi, was it?

Joseph H. Purvis:

What you had, Mr. Justice --

John Paul Stevens:

But, is this a question of a different point in time when the officers chose to make the search, isn't that the only difference?