Colorado v. Bertine Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The respondent, Steven Lee Bertine (the “respondent”), was arrested for driving under the influence, and a routine inventory of his impounded car revealed drug paraphernalia.

Facts of the case

Question

Whether a warrant is required to perform a routine inventory search?

Answer

The Supreme Court held that inventory searches were reasonable under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. The Supreme Court noted that there were several policy reasons that would support the searches, namely to protect the owner’s property as well as to guard the police from not only accusations of lost property, but also to guard against any physical danger from anything in the vehicle.

Conclusion

The Supreme Court of the United States reversed the judgment from the Supreme Court of Colorado. The Court held that that reasonable police regulations relating to inventory procedures that were administered in good faith satisfied the Fourth Amendment. In the present case, there was no showing that the police, who were following standardized procedures, acted in bad faith or for the sole purpose of investigation. The police were potentially responsible for the property taken into their custody. By securing the property, the police protected the property from unauthorized interference. Moreover, the local police department’s procedures mandated the opening of closed containers and the listing of their contents. The discretion afforded the police was exercised in light of standardized criteria, related to the feasibility and appropriateness of parking and locking a vehicle rather than impounding it. Finally, there was no showing that the police chose to impound Bertine’s van in order to investigate suspected criminal activity.

  • Case Brief: 1987
  • Petitioner: Colorado
  • Respondent: Bertine
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 479 US 367 (1987)
Argued: Nov 10, 1986
Decided: Jan 14, 1987