Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Fifth District; heard
in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Johnson County,
the Hon. Duane Leach, Judge, presiding.
MR. JUSTICE RYAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:
This appeal concerns the warrantless opening and seizing of the contents of a closed, unlocked suitcase. The circuit court of Johnson County denied the defendant's motion to suppress the evidence seized, and the defendant was convicted. The appellate court reversed, with one justice dissenting. (76 Ill. App.3d 843.) We granted leave to appeal.
On October 15, 1977, the defendant, Jeffrey Bayles, was involved in a one-car accident in Johnson County. His automobile was found in an upside-down position in a field next to a rural highway. Defendant was not seriously injured, but was trapped inside the vehicle. His fiance was thrown from the car and killed. Several items that had been in the car were found in the field. A deputy of the Johnson County sheriff's office, following established procedure of that office, inventoried the items found and also opened closed containers and inventoried their contents. Cannabis was found and seized from within a blue cloth drawstring sack and a brown suitcase. Tinfoil packets containing what was later determined to be a controlled substance were also found in the sack. Defendant did not contest the ownership of the sack and the luggage. He did, however, seek the suppression of the cannabis and the controlled substance discovered in the containers, alleging the violation of his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Only the contents of the suitcase are involved in this proceeding. The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, reversed defendant's conviction based on its finding that the inventory of the contents of defendant's suitcase constituted an illegal search.
Evidence concerning the inventory and the resultant discovery of the cannabis was adduced during the preliminary hearing, the hearing on defendant's motion to suppress, and the hearing on defendant's motion for a rehearing on the suppression motion. Gregory Carlock, a witness who resided near the scene of the accident, was one of the first persons to arrive at the scene. He testified that defendant told him that he had items of value in his suitcase and requested that Carlock close the suitcase, which had been thrown from the car in the accident. Carlock stated that he tucked in some clothes that were sticking out of the case, closed both latches, and rolled the tumbler on the suitcase's combination lock. Carlock testified that he told defendant that he would tell the sheriff that he had closed the suitcase and that the sheriff should watch it since it contained items of value. According to Carlock, defendant did not respond to this statement. Carlock's actions were witnessed by another neighbor, James Williams, who testified that he observed Carlock tuck the clothes in and close the brown suitcase.
Johnson County Sheriff Elry Faulkner also testified. He stated that the blue cloth drawstring bag was lying outside the car by the trunk. The sack was open to the extent that he was able to see plastic sticking out of its opening. The sheriff opened the sack and found a plastic bag containing what was later determined to be approximately 5 grams of cannabis. He also discovered some green plant material and three tinfoil packets. The sheriff did not open the tinfoil packets; it was later determined that each contained one Methaqualone tablet. Faulkner shoved the plastic bag back into the sack, pulled the drawstring, and gave the sack to his deputy. The sheriff then stated that he saw a brown shaving-kit bag located inside the car. He opened the kit and discovered a large quantity of paper currency. The sheriff instructed his deputy to witness the counting of the money, which came to $1,255. Although the sheriff saw the brown suitcase situated on the ground at the rear of the car, he testified that he was unable to ascertain whether it was open. Faulkner stated that Carlock then informed him, within the hearing of his deputy, that the suitcase contained something of value.
The deputy sheriff of Johnson County, James Eugene Alsip, also testified. He stated that the sheriff was already at the scene of the accident at the time of his arrival. Sheriff Faulkner handed Alsip a blue cloth sack; the sack was closed at this time. The sheriff also had the deputy witness him count the $1,255 found in the brown shaving-kit bag. Alsip was then instructed by the sheriff to "take charge" of the property. Alsip understood this instruction to mean that he make an inventory of the items found at the scene of the accident. He overheard Carlock notify the sheriff of the presence of valuable items in the defendant's suitcase. According to Alsip, the suitcase was not fully closed. Instead, one latch was unfastened and the case was open one-half to three-quarters of an inch on that side. Alsip unfastened the other latch and opened the suitcase. Inside he found some paper currency, a plastic bag containing a brown, leafy substance, and a closed, folded-over brown grocery bag. Alsip opened the brown bag and discovered a brick of marijuana. The contents of the suitcase are the basis of the possession-of-cannabis charge involved in this case.
According to both the sheriff and the deputy, the opening of closed, unlocked containers was in accordance with the inventory procedure customarily followed by the Johnson County sheriff's office. Sheriff Faulkner stated that it was the policy of his office to open closed, unlocked containers for the purpose of inventorying the items contained therein. He stated that he created this policy rule in order to protect both the owner of the property and the sheriff's office. Although he characterized the official activity as an inventory, the sheriff stated that he did suspect the presence of alcoholic beverages, since only one car was involved in the accident. Deputy Alsip testified that he believed an inventory of the suitcase to be necessary to protect defendant's valuables. He stated that he was aware of the discovery of the cash in the shaving-kit bag and he heard Carlock inform the sheriff of the presence of valuable items in the suitcase. Since the sheriff's office would be responsible for these items, Alsip deemed the inventory of the contents of the luggage to be necessary also for the protection of the officers. Alsip unequivocally stated that he was not looking for drugs, was not concerned for his safety, and that the inventory was not performed as a search incident to an arrest.
The fourth amendment to the Federal Constitution guarantees the individual the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In considering fourth amendment issues, our fundamental inquiry is whether or not the search or seizure was reasonable under all of the circumstances. (United States v. Chadwick (1977), 433 U.S. 1, 9, 53 L.Ed.2d 538, 547, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 2482; Cooper v. California (1967), 386 U.S. 58, 59, 17 L.Ed.2d 730, 732, 87 S.Ct. 788, 789-90.) The clause operates to protect persons, rather than places, from unreasonable governmental intrusions into their legitimate expectations of privacy. (Katz v. United States (1967), 389 U.S. 347, 351, 19 L.Ed.2d 576, 581-82, 88 S.Ct. 507, 511.) As such, the application of the fourth amendment is not limited to the home but, instead, extends to searches conducted in a variety of settings, including searches of automobiles. (United States v. Chadwick (1977), 433 U.S. 1, 10, 53 L.Ed.2d 538, 547, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 2482-83.) While a search warrant is generally constitutionally required for the search of an automobile, the rule is subject to exceptions. Warrantless searches of automobiles have been upheld where incident to an arrest; under the moving-automobile exception; when the vehicle is lawfully impounded; or if valid consent for the search has been obtained. (See Annot., 26 L.Ed.2d 893 (1970).) Although there has been no judicial pronouncement that an inventory is a search (People v. Hamilton (1979), 74 Ill.2d 457, 464; see South Dakota v. Opperman (1976), 428 U.S. 364, 369-71, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000, 1005-07, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 3097-98; see generally 2 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure sec. 7.4, at 563-65 (1978)), the intrusion is tested for its constitutionality by an application of the fourth amendment reasonableness standard. People v. Hamilton (1979), 74 Ill.2d 457, 465; People v. Clark (1976), 65 Ill.2d 169, 174; People v. Smith (1969), 44 Ill.2d 82, 88.
In the instant appeal, both parties concede that the Johnson County officers conducted an inventory of the defendant's disabled vehicle. According to the State, the inventory, conducted in conformity with regular departmental procedure, was reasonable in view of the exigencies presented by the case. This is also the position of the dissenting justice in the appellate court. (76 Ill. App.3d 843, 853.) The defendant counters by asserting that no exigencies justified the opening of the suitcase and, by so doing, the officers exceeded the permissible bounds of an inventory procedure.
The United States Supreme Court has not yet ruled specifically on whether inventories of closed containers can be reconciled with the fourth amendment guarantee. In South Dakota v. Opperman (1976), 428 U.S. 364, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000, 96 S.Ct. 3092, the court upheld the inventory search of a vehicle impounded for traffic violations. In that case, police officers discovered marijuana in the vehicle's unlocked, but closed, glove compartment. The court first held that the procedure of inventorying the contents of lawfully impounded vehicles, customarily followed throughout the nation, was a reasonable measure used to further three legitimate objectives: the protection of the owner's property; the protection of the police against claims of lost or stolen property; and the protection of police from potential danger. Applying the three objectives enunciated in Opperman, this court has upheld the validity of an inventory search of an automobile lawfully impounded following a defendant's arrest. People v. Clark (1976), 65 Ill.2d 169.
We note that the inventory in Opperman did not involve the opening of containers transported in the vehicle. The precedential scope of a decision is limited to the facts before the court. (People v. Beard (1974), 59 Ill.2d 220, 225, cert. denied (1975), 421 U.S. 992, 44 L.Ed.2d 483, 95 S.Ct. 1999.) The Opperman holding is confined, therefore, to cases involving warrantless inventory searches of closed, unlocked glove compartments in lawfully impounded vehicles. The language of both the separate opinions filed in the Opperman case supports this conclusion. In a concurring opinion, Mr. Justice Powell stated: "Upholding searches of this type provides no general license for the police to examine all the contents of such automobiles." (South Dakota v. Opperman (1976), 428 U.S. 364, 380, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000, 1011-12, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 3102.) Mr. Justice Marshall, writing for the dissenting justices, stated that "the Court's opinion does not authorize the inspection of suitcases, boxes, or other containers which might themselves be sealed, removed and secured without further intrusion." (428 U.S. 364, 389 n. 6, 49 L.Ed.2d 1000, 1017 n. 6, 96 S.Ct. 3092, 3107 n. 6.) Thus, the United States Supreme Court has not yet ruled specifically on whether inventories of closed containers can be reconciled with the fourth amendment guarantee to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
In United States v. Chadwick (1977), 433 U.S. 1, 53 L.Ed.2d 538, 97 S.Ct. 2476, San Diego railroad officials notified Federal narcotics agents of their suspicion that an unusually heavy, double-locked footlocker boarded for Boston contained contraband. Federal agents in Boston met the San Diego train and arrested three men after the footlocker had been loaded into the trunk of a waiting car. The respondents and the car containing the footlocker were then taken into custody. The agents unlocked and opened the footlocker approximately 1 1/2 hours after the warrantless arrests, finding a large quantity of marijuana. A search warrant had not been obtained, and consent to the search had not been given. The United States District Court granted the respondents' motion to suppress the seized marijuana, finding that the contraband was seized as a product of a search which violated the fourth amendment warrant requirement. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court also affirmed, holding that the agents should have obtained a search warrant before opening the footlocker. In so holding, the court rejected two arguments advanced by the government. First, the government had asserted that a search of moveable, personal property legally seized in a public place does not require a warrant. According to the government, the search of the luggage should be viewed as being analogous to the warrantless search of a vehicle under the automobile exception. Under that exception, a search warrant is not required where police officers stop a vehicle on a street or highway based on the existence of probable cause to believe that it contains contraband or evidence of a crime. (See, e.g., Chambers v. Maroney (1970), 399 U.S. 42, 26 L.Ed.2d 419, 90 S.Ct. 1975.) The Chadwick court refused to extend the automobile exception to all searches of luggage based on the fact that neither of the two policy considerations supporting the automobile exception apply to the search of luggage; that is, the court focused on the mobility of automobiles and the limited expectation of privacy in a vehicle. The court stated:
"The factors which diminish the privacy aspects of an automobile do not apply to respondents' footlocker. Luggage contents are not open to the public view, except as a condition to a border entry or common carrier travel; nor is luggage subject to regular inspections and official scrutiny on a continuing basis. Unlike an automobile, whose primary function is transportation, luggage is intended as a repository of personal effects. In sum, a person's expectations of privacy in personal luggage are substantially greater than in an automobile." (United States v. Chadwick (1977), 433 U.S. 1, 13, 53 L.Ed.2d 538, 549, 97 S.Ct. 2476, 2484.)
The court then rejected the government's second argument that the warrantless search of personalty based upon probable cause was legal since the luggage searched was in the possession of persons lawfully arrested in public. The court noted that it is the potential dangers inherent in custodial arrests which obviate the need for a warrant to search the items within the immediate control of the arrestee. Since the search of the footlocker was not conducted at the time of the arrest and since the footlocker was under the government's exclusive ...