Minnesota v. Carter

LOCATION:Kimberley Thompson’s Apartment

DOCKET NO.: 97-1147
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Minnesota Supreme Court

CITATION: 525 US 83 (1998)
ARGUED: Oct 06, 1998
DECIDED: Dec 01, 1998

Bradford Colbert – Argued the cause for the respondents
James C. Backstrom – Argued the cause for the petitioner
Jeffrey A. Lamken – On behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner

Facts of the case

Wayne Thomas Carter, Melvin Johns, and Kimberly Thompson were arrested after a police officer observed them through a window bagging cocaine in Thompson’s apartment. During the trial in Minnesota state court, the defendants moved to suppress the cocaine as evidence. They argued the officer’s initial observation was an unreasonable search and seizure in violation of their Fourth Amendment rights. Subsequently, they were all convicted on state drug charges. The Minnesota trial court held that because they were not overnight social guests they were not protected by the Fourth Amendment. Moreover, the court held that the officer’s window-based observation was not a search under the Fourth Amendment. On appeal, the state intermediate appellate court held Carter did not have standing for an objection to the officer’s action because his use of the apartment for drug purposes removed any legitimate expectation of privacy. The court also affirmed Johns’ conviction . The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed. It held that the defendants had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place and that the officer’s observation constituted an unreasonable search. Minnesota sought a writ of certiorari in the U.S. Supreme Court.


In accordance with the Fourth Amendment, do household visitors have the same protection against unreasonable searches and seizures as do residents or overnight social guests?

Media for Minnesota v. Carter

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 06, 1998 in Minnesota v. Carter

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – December 01, 1998 in Minnesota v. Carter

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the court to announce in No. 97-1147, Minnesota versus Carter and Johns.

In this case the respondents Carter and Johns lived in Chicago, but they drove to Eagan, Minnesota, suburb of the Twin Cities to package cocaine powder.

They went to the apartment of a woman they have never met before and in an exchange for a portion of the cocaine, the woman allowed them to use her apartment to package the drugs into plastic baggies.

Acting on a tip a police officer looked through the apartment’s metal window blind and observed the three people sitting around the kitchen table packaging the cocaine.

When Carter and Johns left the apartment sometime later they were arrested.

After their indictment on several drug offences they argued that their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated by an unreasonable search and that the evidence of their drug activity was inadmissible.

The State Trial Court disagreed and they were convicted of various drug offences.

But the Supreme Court of Minnesota reversed their convictions.

We granted certiorari and we now reverse that court holding that the Fourth Amendment did not protect Carter and Johns in the apartment.

The Minnsota Supreme Court analyzed the case in terms of Fourth Amendment standing, but as our Court decided 20 years ago in the Rakas case, the proper enquiry under the Fourth Amendment is not whether those claiming the Amendments protection have standings, but rather whether they can say that their own Fourth Amendment rights were violated.

We now address that question and conclude that Carter and Johns Fourth Amendment rights were not violated.

The Fourth Amendment protects people against unreasonable searches of their houses.

We held in Rakas that the defendants in that case could not claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment over a weapons seized from someone else’s car and we held in Minnesota versus Olson that an overnight houseguest could claim the Fourth Amendment protection over the house in which he was staying.

This case involving short-term business visitors obviously falls somewhere in between.

Here Carter and Johns were not overnight social guests, they had no prior relationship with the owner of the apartment.

There was no other purpose to their visit, but the business purpose of packaging drugs and we have held that the Fourth Amendment does not protect as rigorously in the commercial context.

We therefore hold that Carter and Johns, as short-term business guests, could not claim the protections of Fourth Amendment in the apartment.

And therefore, their Fourth Amendment rights were not violated by whatever search event if any occurred.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Thomas joins; Justice Kennedy has filed a concurring opinion; Justice Breyer has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment; Justice Ginsburg has filled a dissenting opinion in which Justice Stevens and Justice Souter join.