Florida v. Wells - Significance
State of Florida
Martin Leslie Wells
It is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment for a police officer to open a locked suitcase that is found in the trunk of an arrestee's vehicle, even if the police station has no clear policy on the opening of locked containers during an inventory search.
Chief Lawyer for Petitioner
Michael J. Neimand
Chief Lawyer for Respondent
Justices for the Court
Harry A. Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Jr., Anthony M. Kennedy, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O'Connor, William H. Rehnquist (writing for the Court), Antonin Scalia, John Paul Stevens, Byron R. White
Date of Decision
18 April 1990
Absent a policy on the opening of closed containers found by police officers during an inventory search, an inventory search that involves the opening of a locked suitcase is not sufficiently regulated under the Fourth Amendment and is therefore illegal.
The Wells decision put police departments across the country on notice that they had to craft a general policy on inventory searches in addition to rules to implement the policy. At the same time, the opinion paved the way for broader police powers in vehicle inventory searches by proclaiming that police have the discretion to open whatever containers they may find during an inventory search.
- South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976).
- Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U.S. 640 (1983).
- Colorado v. Bertine, 479 U.S. 367 (1987).
- West's Encyclopedia of American Law,Volume 9. St. Paul: West Group, 1998.
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