Ybarra v. Illinois

PETITIONER:Ventura E. Ybarra
RESPONDENT:State of Illinois
LOCATION:Aurora, Illinois

DOCKET NO.: 78-5937
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: State appellate court

CITATION: 444 US 85 (1979)
ARGUED: Oct 09, 1979
DECIDED: Nov 28, 1979

Alan D. Goldberg – on behalf of the Appellant
Melbourne A. Noel, Jr. – on behalf of the Appellee

Facts of the case

This precedent allowed changes in the interpretation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution. This case was preceded by a search in the bar Aurora Tap Tavern on March 1, 1976. The police had a warrant to search only the premises, but during the procedure, persons who were in the bar were also subjected to a search, one of which was the plaintiff in this case. During this procedure, the police discovered illegal drugs that the plaintiff had kept. According to the laws of the state of Illinois, the police had the right to conduct a search of persons who are in premises, search permits on which were issued by the court, even if the names of these persons were not explicitly.

The court found this provision to be inconsistent with the constitution and violating the person’s right to personal inviolability. The court also ruled that, within the framework of a warrant for the search of premises, the search of persons residing in it can not be carried out, since these two investigative actions must be regulated by various documents. In addition, the decision indicated that a search of a person during the search of a room could not be carried out without a warrant, even if there is a reason to believe that the person is involved in criminal activity, carries items that are illegal or prohibited, or is dangerous. This decision of the court further strengthened the effect of the relevant amendments and ensured an even greater inviolability of individuals.


Does the Illinois state statute that allows authorities to search persons on the premises during the execution of a valid search warrant violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments?

Media for Ybarra v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – October 09, 1979 in Ybarra v. Illinois

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – November 28, 1979 in Ybarra v. Illinois

Warren E. Burger:

The judgment and opinion of the Court in Ybarra against Illinois will be announced by Mr. Justice Stewart.

Potter Stewart:

This case is here on direct appeal from the Appellate Court of Illinois for the Second District.

An Illinois statute authorizes law enforcement officers to detain and search any person found on premises being searched pursuant to a search warrant, to protect themselves from attack or to prevent the disposal or concealment of anything described in the warrant.

The question in this case is whether the application of this statute and to the present circumstances violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

An Illinois judge issued a warrant supported by probable cause authorizing the search for illegal drugs of a place called the “Aurora Tap Tavern” and also a search of the person, of the bartender of that establishment.

In the late afternoon of the same day seven or eight officers proceeded to the tavern.

Upon entering it, the officers announced their purposes and advised all those present that they were going to conduct a “cursory search for weapons.”

One of the officers then proceeded to pat down each of the dozen or so customers present in the tavern, while the remaining officers engaged in an extensive search of the premises.

The police officer who frisked the patrons found the appellant, Ybarra, in front of the bar standing by a pinball machine.

In his first patdown of Ybarra, the officer felt what he described as “a cigarette pack with objects in it.”

He did not remove this pack from Ybarra’s pocket.

Instead, he moved on and proceeded to pat down other customers.

And after completing this process the officer returned to Ybarra and frisked him once again.

In the second search of Ybarra, the officer relocated and retrieved the cigarette pack from Ybarra’s pants pockets — pocket.

Inside the pack he found six tinfoil packets containing a brown powdery substance which later turned out to be heroin.

Ybarra was subsequently indicted by an Illinois grand jury for the unlawful possession of a controlled substance.

He filed a — a pretrial motion to suppress all the contraband that had been seized from his person at the Aurora Tap Tavern.

At the hearing on this motion the State sought to justify the search by reference to the Illinois statute in question.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, finding that the search had been conducted under the authority of the statute.

The case proceeded to trial before the court sitting without a jury, and Ybarra was found guilty.

On appeal, the Illinois Appellate Court held that the Illinois statute was not unconstitutional “in its application to the facts” of this case — and I’m quoting.

The court, therefore affirmed Ybarra’s conviction and the Illinois Supreme Court denied his petition for leave to appeal.

There followed an appeal to this Court, and we noted probable jurisdiction.

There is no reason to suppose that when the search warrant was issued, the authorities had probable cause to believe that any person found on the premises of the Aurora Tap Tavern, aside from the bartender, would be violating the law.

The complaint for search warrant did not allege that the bar was frequented by persons illegally purchasing drugs.

It did not state that the informant had ever seen a patron of the tavern purchase drugs from the bartender or from anybody else.

Nowhere in fact, did the complaint even mention the patrons of the — of the tavern.

Not only was probable cause to search Ybarra absent at the time the warrant was issued, it was still absent when the police executed the warrant.

Upon entering the tavern, the police did not recognize Ybarra and had no reason to believe that he had committed, was committing, or was about to commit any offense under federal or state law.

Ybarra made no gestures indicative of criminal conduct, made no movements that might suggest an attempt to conceal contraband, and said nothing of a suspicious nature to the police officers.

Potter Stewart:

In short, the agents knew nothing in particular about Ybarra, except that he was present, along with several other customers, in a public tavern at a time when the police had reason to believe that the bartender would have heroin for sale.

It is true that the police possessed a warrant based on probable cause to search the tavern in which Ybarra happened to be at the time the warrant was executed.

But a person’s mere propinquity to others independently suspected of criminal activity does not, without more, give probable cause to search that person. Where the standard is probable cause, a search or seizure of a person must be supported by probable cause particularized with respect to that person.

This requirement cannot be undercut or avoided by simply pointing to the fact that coincidentally there exists probable cause to search or seize another or to search the premises where the person may happen to be.

The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments protect the “legitimate expectations of privacy” of persons, not places.

Each patron who walked into the Aurora Tap Tavern was clothed with constitutional protection against an unreasonable search or an unreasonable seizure.

That individualized protection was separate and distinct from the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment protection possessed by the proprietor of the tavern or by the bartender.

Although the search warrant, issued upon probable cause gave the officers authority to search the premises and to search the bartender, it gave them no authority whatever to invade the constitutional protections possessed individually by each of the tavern’s customers.

For these basic reasons amplified in considerable detail in the Court’s written opinion filed with the clerk this morning, we hold that the application of the Illinois statute in the circumstances of this case violated the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Accordingly, the judgment is reversed and the case is remanded to the Appellate Court of Illinois, Second District for further proceedings not inconsistent with the Court’s written opinion.

The Chief Justice has filed a dissenting opinion which Mr. Justice Blackmun and Mr. Justice Rehnquist have joined.

Mr. Justice Rehnquist has also filed a dissenting opinion which the Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Blackmun have joined.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you Mr. Justice Stewart.