New York v. Burger Case Brief

Why is the case important?

New York state statute permits police to inspect junkyards without a warrant. One operator was found to have stolen parts on his lot.

Facts of the case

Question

Whether the warrentless search of an automobile junkyard, conducted pursuant to a statute authorizing such a search, falls within the exception to the warrant requirement for administrative inspections of pervasively regulated industries.
Whether an otherwise proper administrative inspection is unconstitutional because the ultimate purpose of the regulatory statute pursuant to which the search is done . . . is the same as that of penal laws.

Answer

Yes. Junkyards are a closely regulated industry. The state has a substantial interest in regulating it because the threat of motor theft, and regulation of the . . . industry can control the receiver of, or market in, stolen property. That statute provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant by informing the operator that inspections will be made on a regular basis.
Yes. A State can address a major social problem both by way of an administrative scheme and through penal sanctions.

Conclusion

The Court reversed the lower court’s judgment upon a finding that vehicle dismantlers were part of a closely regulated industry that carried a reduced expectation of privacy, thereby lessening the application of Fourth Amendment warrant and probable cause requirements. Hence, the State’s authorization of warrantless inspections of junkyards, concededly for the purpose of uncovering criminality, was not unconstitutional.

  • Case Brief: 1987
  • Petitioner: New York
  • Respondent: Burger
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 482 US 691 (1987)
Argued: Feb 23, 1987
Decided: Jun 19, 1987