Colorado v. Bertine

LOCATION: Wisconsin Eastern U.S. District Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 85-889
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: Colorado Supreme Court

CITATION: 479 US 367 (1987)
ARGUED: Nov 10, 1986
DECIDED: Jan 14, 1987

Cary C. Lacklen - on behalf of Respondent
John M. Haried - on behalf of Petitioner
Richard J. Lazarus - on behalf of the United States as amicus curiae, supporting Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Colorado v. Bertine

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 1986 in Colorado v. Bertine

William H. Rehnquist:

You may proceed now whenever you're ready, Mr. Haried.

John M. Haried:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

In South Dakota versus Opperman and in Illinois versus Lafayette, this Court held that inventory searches are lawful if they are routinely done, if they are done pursuant to standard police procedures, and if they are done in furtherance of legitimate governmental interests, and if they are not a pretext for an investigative search.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the Colorado Supreme Court to decide the narrow question of whether during an otherwise lawful inventory search of an automobile it is permissible for a police officer to open and inventory closed containers.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Haried, may I ask you a preliminary question.

Did you urge below or did the state urge below that the search would be valid under Belton, a search incident to arrest?

John M. Haried:

We did not urge that on the interlocutory appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Why not?

Do you think it would have been?

John M. Haried:

Yes, I do think it would have been, if it had been done at the time of Mr. Bertine's arrest.

The facts were that it was done some 15 minutes or so after his arrest, after a dog control officer had come and taken the dog out of Mr. Bertine's vehicle.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, wasn't there a case from Arizona that dealt with a delay, that recognized the concept of Belton, from this Court?

John M. Haried:

I do not know if there was.

I'm not familiar with it.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

I was just very curious to know why the state didn't pursue that.

John M. Haried:

It was basically a decision of the facts of this case, that the intent and the whole thrust of the search was an inventory, and that's the grounds on which we sought to justify it.

The facts in this case are that the defendant was stopped because of his erratic driving, and he was eventually arrested for drunken driving.

He was taken to the Boulder police department for the booking procedure and for a blood alcohol test.

The police impounded his vehicle because where it was left when he was arrested it was blocking traffic on a busy street in the city of Boulder.

The Boulder police department regulations provide for routine inventory searches of impounded automobiles and their contents.

And during the search in this case, the police officer found Mr. Bertine's backpack on the floor, picked it up and could tell that it contained personal items, and he opened it to look for valuable or dangerous items for inventory purposes.

And inside he found a hair brush, a heavy metal flashlight, clothing, and he also found cocaine, cocaine paraphernalia, Quaaludes, and $700 in cash in one container and $200 in cash in a separate container on a pouch on the outside of the backpack.

The trial court in this case made several factual findings that are particularly important because they help focus the issue on appeal.

The trial court found as a matter of fact that the decision to impound this vehicle was made in good faith, and that it was made for the purposes of protecting Mr. Bertine's property, protecting the police from false claims of theft, and protecting the police from dangerous items that might have been inside of the backpack.

And the trial court found that the officer followed the standard inventory procedures and, importantly, the trial court found that this search was not a pretext for an investigative search.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Were there procedures in place for when containers would be opened or whether they would or anything of that sort?

John M. Haried:

The Boulder police department regulations provide that if a vehicle is impounded it shall be inventoried, and the trial court made a finding that that meant opening closed containers.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is there anything in the record that tells us what the policy is, other than that general conclusion?

Was that conclusion of the trial court supported by a written policy of any kind?

John M. Haried:

There is a written policy.