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Automobile Searches

Warrantless Seizures Of Automobile As Forfeitable Contraband

The Fourth Amendment does not require the police to obtain a warrant before seizing an

A California Highway Patrolman searches a car allegedly used to smuggle drugs. In California v. Acevedo (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court held that police officers may search a car if there is probable cause to believe it contains evidence or contraband.

automobile from a public place when they have probable cause to believe that it is forfeitable contraband. The U.S. Supreme Court thus reversed a decision in which the Supreme Court of Florida had held that the warrantless seizure of an automobile, pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act, violated the Fourth Amendment in the absence of exigent circumstances. Florida v. White, 526 U.S. 559, 119 S. Ct. 1555, 143 L. Ed. 2d 748 (1999).

The case involved a defendant who had been convicted of possession of cocaine, which had been found during a police inventory search of his automobile following its warrantless seizure from a public parking lot pursuant to the Florida Contraband Forfeiture Act. Fla. Stat.932.701. Although the police lacked probable cause to believe that the defendant's car contained contraband, they did have probable cause to believe that the vehicle itself was contraband under the Florida law.

Fourth Amendment JURISPRUDENCE recognizes the need to seize readily movable contraband before it is spirited away, and this need is equally weighty when the automobile, as distinguished from its contents, is the very contraband that the police seek to secure, the Court observed. In addition to the special considerations recognized in the context of movable items, the Court continued, Fourth Amendment jurisprudence has consistently afforded law enforcement officials greater latitude in exercising their duties in public places. Because the police had seized defendant's vehicle from a public area, the Court concluded that the warrantless seizure had not involved any invasion of the defendant's privacy.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Approximation of laws to AutopsyAutomobile Searches - Warrantless Searches, Automobile Searches: Is The Fourth Amendment In Jeopardy?, Warrantless Seizures Of Automobile As Forfeitable Contraband