Florida v. White, 526 U.S. 559 (1999)

2012-06-22 09:52:13

How far does the Supreme Court extend the automobile exception to the search warrant requirement? In Florida v. White, the court extended the exception in time and place and to new circumstances.

The exception was extended to new circumstances: The defendant’s automobile had been searched after it was been seized under a state criminal forfeiture law. Police found drugs inside in the ensuing inventory search.

Police had probable cause to believe that defendant had used the vehicle in a drug transaction, which allowed forfeiture of the vehicle under state law. The court relied on Carroll v. United States to declare that police can search without a warrant when they have probable cause to believe that a vehicle contains contraband. In Florida v. White, the vehicle did not contain contraband; the vehicle itself was contraband. However, at the time of the seizure defendant was incarcerated and the state proved no immediate need to search.

The exception was also extended in time: The seizure occurred more than two months after defendant was seen using the vehicle in the drug transaction.

And the exception was extended in place: The Court relied on the fact that the vehicle was located in a public place when it was seized. Like seizures of vehicles for taxes in G.M. Leasing v. United States, the seizure involved no invasion of privacy because the vehicle was in a public place.


References and Further Reading

  • Chilcoat, Kendra H., The Automobile Exception Swallows the Rule: Florida v. White, Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 90 (2000): 917–950.
  • Dery, George M. III, Missing the Big Picture: The Supreme Court’s Willful Blindness to Fourth Amendment Fundamentals in Florida v. White, Florida State University Law Review 28 (2001): 571–604.

Cases and Statutes Cited

See also South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976); Warrantless Searches