Delaware v. Prouse

LOCATION: Harrah High School

DOCKET NO.: 77-1571
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: Delaware Supreme Court

CITATION: 440 US 648 (1979)
ARGUED: Jan 17, 1979
DECIDED: Mar 27, 1979

Charles M. Oberly, III - Argued the cause for the petitioner
David M. Lukoff - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

A Delaware patrolman stopped William Prouse's car to make a routine check of his driver's license and vehicle registration. The officer had not observed any traffic violation or suspicious conduct on the part of Prouse. After stopping the car, the officer uncovered marijuana. The marijuana was later used to indict Prouse.


Did the officer's search of Prouse's automobile constitute an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment?

Media for Delaware v. Prouse

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - January 17, 1979 in Delaware v. Prouse

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 27, 1979 in Delaware v. Prouse

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Number 1571, Delaware against Prouse will be announced by Mr. Justice White.

Byron R. White:

This comes here on writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Delaware.

The facts were simple.

A Delaware policeman and a policeman cruiser stopped the car in which the respondent Prouse was riding.

At the time of the stop, the officer had no suspicion and no probable or reasonable cause to believe that the car was being operated contrary to any traffic or safety law or that any occupant of the car had violated any law or was subject to detention or to interrogation.

It is undisputed that the stop was a purely random stop to check the license of the driver and the registration of the car.

As it turned out however, there were incriminating materials in plain sight in the car.

The office seized the materials and Prouse was convicted based on this evidence.

The Supreme Court of Delaware set aside the conviction on the grounds that the stop of the car without probable cause or reasonable suspicion to believe that some crime was being committed violated the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and that the evidence which was a product of that illegal stop was less than admissible in evidence with the purpose of convicting Brother Prouse.

The conviction was set aside and the State of Delaware challenges that holding in this Court, but for the reasons which we state in opinion, we have filed today, we agreed with the Delaware Supreme Court that this stop violated the Fourth Amendment and we consequently affirmed this judgment.

Mr. Justice Blackmun joined by Mr. Justice Powell has filed a concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has dissented.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice White.