Florida v. Thomas

PETITIONER: Florida
RESPONDENT: Thomas
LOCATION: Office of Attorney General

DOCKET NO.: 00-391
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 532 US 774 (2001)
ARGUED: Apr 25, 2001
DECIDED: Jun 04, 2001

ADVOCATES:
Cynthia J. Dodge - Bartow, Florida, argued the cause for the respondent
Gregory G. Garre - Department of Justice, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Robert J. Krauss - Tampa, Florida, argued the cause for the petitioner

Facts of the case

While officers were investigating marijuana sales at Florida home, Robert Thomas drove up to the house. An officer asked Thomas for his name and driver license. Thomas was arrested when a search on his license revealed an outstanding warrant. After taking Thomas inside the house, the officer searched Thomas' car and found methamphetamine. Subsequently, the trial court granted Thomas' motion to suppress. In reversing, the appellate found the search valid under New York v. Belton. In New York v. Belton, the U.S. Supreme Court established a "bright-line" rule permitting an officer who has made a lawful custodial arrest of a car's occupant to search the car's passenger compartment as a contemporaneous incident of the arrest. In reversing, the Florida Supreme Court held Belton did not apply because it is limited to situations where the officer initiates contact with a vehicle's occupant while that person remains in the vehicle.

Question

Is New York v. Belton's bright-line rule limited to situations where the officer initiates contact with a vehicle's occupant while that person remains in the vehicle?

Media for Florida v. Thomas

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 2001 in Florida v. Thomas

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 04, 2001 in Florida v. Thomas

William H. Rehnquist:

The second case which I have to announce is No. 00-391, Florida against Thomas.

Here, a respondent Robert Thomas got out of his car in the driveway of a home where police were investigating drug sales and encountered an officer at the rear of his car.

The officer arrested Thomas on an outstanding warrant, took him inside the house and searched the car finding drugs.

The Trial Court suppressed the evidence.

The Court of Appeals of Florida reversed saying the search was valid under our decision in a case called New York against Belton where we held that an officer who makes the lawful custodial arrest of a car’s occupant may search the car’s passenger compartment incident to that arrest.

The Supreme Court of Florida in turn reversed that court saying that, Belton is limited to situations where the officer initiates conduct with the vehicle’s occupant while the person is still in the vehicle.

The Court remanded the case to the Trial Court to decide whether the search was valid under another of our cases called Chimel against California.

We granted certiorari to determine whether Belton is subject to the limits that the Supreme Court of Florida imposed.

But because we find that Court’s judgment is not final, we dismiss the writ of certiorari for want of jurisdiction in a unanimous opinion filed with the Clerk today.

We are authorized by statute to review final judgments of State Courts.

In four categories of cases set out in Cox Broadcasting Company against Cohn, we have treated State Court judgments as final for jurisdictional purposes although further proceeding will take place in State Court.

But none of these categories fits the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court and much as Justice Souter just said about Tax Law, the law of jurisdiction of final judgments is not terribly easy to explain orally and no more interesting to hear probably.

So, I will leave you with the idea which is true, that we therefore dismiss the writ of certiorari for want of jurisdiction.