United States v. Robinson

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Robinson's car during a traffic stop

DOCKET NO.: 72-936
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1972-1975)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 414 US 218 (1973)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1973
DECIDED: Dec 11, 1973

Allan A. Tuttle - for petitioner
Joseph V. Gartlan, Jr. - for respondent

Facts of the case

A police officer pulled over and arresting Robinson for operating an automobile without a valid permit. The officer then frisked Robinson and discovered a crumpled cigarette package containing fourteen vials of heroin in his pocket.


Did the officer's search violate the Fourth Amendment?

Media for United States v. Robinson

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 09, 1973 in United States v. Robinson

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - December 11, 1973 in United States v. Robinson

Warren E. Burger:

The judgments and opinions of the Court in number 71-1669, Gustafson against Florida, and 72-936, United States against Robinson, will be announced by Mr. Justice Rehnquist.

William H. Rehnquist:

The Robinson case involves the validity of a search of the person incident to a lawful arrest, where after the arrest, the police officer makes a decision to take the person arrested into custody.

Here, a police officer in the District of Columbia arrested respondent Robinson for the crime of operating a motor vehicle after revocation of his operator's permit, in offense defined by statute in the district.

In accordance with police practice and regulations, the officer then proceeded to search Robinson face-to-face, and then the officer proceeded to conduct a patdown.

During the course of the patdown, the officer felt an object in the left breast pocket of a heavy outer coat which Robinson wore.

The officer testified that he couldn't tell what it was and couldn't actually tell the size of it.

He then reached into the pocket and pulled out the object which turned out upon extraction to be a crumpled up cigarette package.

The officer testified that he could feel objects in the package, but couldn't tell what they were, although he knew they were not cigarettes.

He then open the package and found gelatin capsules which turned out upon further examination to be heroin.

Robinson was convicted in the United States District Court for the possession and concealment of the heroin.

In the appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for this circuit, claiming that the heroin should have been excluded from evidence at his trial, because it was the product of an unlawful search.

The Court of Appeals heard the case en banc and the majority decided that the search of Robinson by the officer had been unlawful and that therefore, his conviction must be reversed, and we granted certiorari.

It is well settled that the search incident to a lawful arrest is a historical exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.

We hold here that we are following such a lawful arrest, the determination is made to take the person arrested into custody.

A search of his person is not only an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment but it is a reasonable intrusion under Fourth Amendment standards and requires no additional justification.

This being the case, it is immaterial whether or not they were potential fruits of the crime for which Robinson was originally arrested, what the probability in this particular situation was that weapons would, in fact, be found upon his person or that the arresting officer in this particular case did not fear Robinson or believe that he was armed.

The search of Robinson's person having been lawful, fruits are contraband such as the heroin capsules could be seized upon being discovered in the course of the lawful search.

For these reasons, we reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Mr. Justice Powell while joining the opinion of the court has filed a separate concurring opinion.

Mr. Justice Marshall and Mr. Justice Douglas and Mr. Justice Brennan joined has filed a dissenting opinion.