United States v. Ross

Facts of the Case

Police officers, acting on information from an informant who previously had proved reliable, drove to a location specified by the informant and discovered a particular automobile which the informant had alleged contained narcotics in the trunk. After a brief period had elapsed, the officers, after noting that the automobile’s driver matched a description provided by the informant, stopped the car and opened its trunk. A closed paper bag was discovered that contained a white powder subsequently determined to be heroin. After a police officer drove the auto to headquarters, he thoroughly searched the car without obtaining a warrant, finding a zippered pouch containing $3200 in cash. The driver was convicted of possession of heroin with intent to distribute after the United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied his motion to suppress the heroin and currency. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed, holding that the police should not have opened either container without first obtaining a warrant and rejecting the contention that it was reasonable for the police to open both the paper bag and pouch because they were entitled to conduct a warrantless search of the entire vehicle.


Did the police violate the Fourth Amendment?


The Court held that since the search was done with probable cause and extended into the realm (Ross’s car) of which a magistrate issuing a warrant would have approved, the officers did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Justice Stevens defended the search of the vehicle’s trunk, arguing that if probable cause justifies a vehicle search, then every part of the vehicle is open to inspection.

Case Information

  • Citation: 456 US 798 (1982)
  • Argued: Mar 1, 1982
  • Decided Jun 1, 1982