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Container Searches Without Search Warrants

NCJ Number
Law and Order Volume: 39 Issue: 11 Dated: (November 1991) Pages: 95-103
B Wendt
Date Published
9 pages
This article discusses container searches, search procedures, and applicable law regarding search warrant exceptions under the fourth amendment.
To protect officers and to preserve destructible evidence of the crime for which a suspect is arrested, unsealed and unlocked containers may be searched as long as the search is contemporaneous with the arrest and it is confined to the area of the arrestee's immediate control or to the area within the immediate vicinity of the arrest. A search of the person and his or her clothing may be delayed until the place of detention is reached. A full-body search of a person arrested for a traffic violation, as well as a search of all containers, may be made even though the officer is not concerned for his or her safety. Containers not associated with an arrest may not be searched without a search warrant. Containers may be searched under the following Terry pat-down rule: where an officer has reasonable belief that a suspect is engaged in criminal activity, the officer may conduct a limited search of the suspect's outer clothing for a weapon. A Terry search may extend to vehicles where there is reason to believe the detained suspect is armed and dangerous. Containers may be searched under the automobile exception where the vehicle is lawfully stopped and officers have probable cause to believe contraband is concealed within the vehicle. Containers may be searched under the emergency doctrine if officers have a basis for believing an emergency requires such a search. Where an arrest occurs in the home and officers have tried to get a search warrant but the judge is not available, they may search a specific location when they have probable cause to believe contraband is hidden. Containers may be searched where their incriminating contents are visible or party visible to the naked eye. Any container may be searched if consent to search was given voluntarily and not the result of coercion. Containers may be searched under the abandoned property rule, the inventory/impoundment rule, the independent source rule, the inevitable discovery rule, and the de minimus rule. Searches involving students, probationers, parolees, dogs, and locked containers are also examined.