|Washington v. Chrisman
[ Burger ]
[ White ]
Washington v. Chrisman
CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WASHINGTON
JUSTICE WHITE, with whom JUSTICE BRENNAN and JUSTICE MARSHALL join, dissenting.
The arrest in this case was made on the street. It gave Officer Daugherty no authority to enter Overdahl's quarters without his consent. But Overdahl wanted to retrieve his identification from his room; if Daugherty was willing for Overdahl to do so, he could properly condition his consent on accompanying Overdahl and keeping him under close surveillance. Accordingly, when Overdahl entered his room, Daugherty could stay as close to Overdahl as he deemed necessary to protect himself and maintain control over his arrestee. If it had been reasonably necessary for Daugherty to enter the room in pursuit of these purposes, he would not have violated any of Overdahl's Fourth Amendment rights. It is also plain enough that he was entitled to stand in the doorway and keep Overdahl in sight.
The record in this case is clear, however, that Daugherty did not leave the doorway and enter the room in order to protect himself or maintain control over Overdahl. Daugherty's uncontradicted testimony was that he entered the room solely to confirm his suspicion that the seeds and the seashell he had observed from the doorway were marihuana seeds and a seashell pipe that had been used to smoke marihuana. [n1] [p11] Daugherty made no claim that he entered the room as a necessary incident to the permission given Overdahl to secure his identification. Rather, he claimed that the entry was justified because of what as in plain view on the desk inside the room.
The plain view doctrine, however, does not authorize an officer to enter a dwelling without a warrant to seize contraband merely because the contraband is visible from outside the dwelling. This is settled law. As the Court said in Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 468 (1971):
[P]lain view alone is never enough to justify the warrantless seizure of evidence. This is simply a corollary of the familiar principle discussed above, that no amount of probable cause can justify a warrantless search or seizure absent "exigent circumstances." Incontrovertible testimony of the senses that an incriminating object is on premises belonging to a criminal suspect may establish the fullest possible measure of probable cause. But even where the object is contraband, this Court has repeatedly [p12] stated and enforced the basic rule that the police may not enter and make a warrantless seizure. Taylor v. Ulited States, 286 U.S. l; Johnson v. United States, 333 U.S. 10; McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451; Jones v. United States, 357 U.S. 493, 497-498; Chapman v. United States, 365 U.S. 610; Trupiano v. United States, 334 U.S. 699. [n2]
Coolidge emphasized that the plain view doctrine applies only after a lawful search is in progress or the officer was otherwise legally present at the place of the seizure. The initial intrusion must be justified by a warrant, by an exception to the warrant requirement, or by other circumstances authorizing his presence.
If a police officer passing by an open door of a home sees incriminating evidence within the house, his observation may provide probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant. Yet the officer may not enter the home without a warrant unless an exception to the warrant requirement applies. [n3] This rule is fully supported by Coolidge v. New Hampshire, supra, and the cases cited in the Court's opinion in that case. [n4] [p13] Any contrary rule would severely undercut the protection afforded by the Fourth Amendment, for it is the physical entry of the home that is the chief evil against which the Amendment [p14] is directed. Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 585-586 (1980); United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 313 (1972).
The Court does not purport to hold otherwise. There is apparent agreement that the seizure in this case is consistent with the Fourth Amendment only if the officer was legally where he was when he made the seizure. Neither does the Court purport to find that Daugherty's presence in the room was, in fact, necessary to effectuate the arrest or to protect the officer. To do so would require contradicting Daugherty's own testimony. Rather, the Court asserts that Daugherty could have remained at Overdahl's elbow, that he could have entered the room wholly apart from his observation of the seeds, and that the case should be judged as though Daugherty had found it necessary to enter the room for the purpose of guarding Overdahl. Under this approach, the officer's presence at the desk where he made the seizure should be deemed lawful.
The difficulty with this is not merely that the officer himself did not suggest that he entered the room to maintain control over Overdahl or to protect himself. The more basic issue is whether the Court is justified in concluding as a matter of law that the circumstances would have warranted an entry for those reasons. The trial court did not sustain the entry on this basis, and the Washington Supreme Court expressly held that there were no exigent circumstances connected with Overdahl's arrest and custody that gave Daugherty sufficient reason to enter the room. I am unwilling on this record to decide as a matter of law what is more properly to be resolved as a matter of fact, and I would not differ with the state court on the record we now have before us.
I perceive no justification for what is, in effect, a per se rule that an officer in Daugherty's circumstances could always enter the room and stay at the arrestee's elbow. This would be true only if there were no limits to the conditions which [p15] the officer could attach when he permits his charge to return to his room. I doubt, for example, that he could insist that he be permitted to search desks, closets, drawers, or cabinets. Likewise, he should not be permitted to invade living quarters any more than is necessary to maintain control and protect himself. Bright-line rules are indeed useful and sometimes necessary, cf. Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U.S. 106, 109-110 (1977); United States v. Robinson, 414 U.S. 218, 234-236 (1973), but the Court should move with some care where the home or living quarters are involved.
This is not a case, therefore, involving punishing an officer for entering a room for the wrong reason when there was a perfectly legal basis for his doing so. See Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 138 (1978); Massachusetts v. Painten, 389 U.S. 560, 564-565 (1968) (WHITE, J., dissenting). This is a case where the record before us does not demonstrate that it was necessary for the officer to enter the room as an incident to his custodial arrest. He thus had no legal basis for being in the room unless his sighting of the seeds permitted him to be there. The Court agrees that the plain view doctrine does not provide that justification.
For me, the case comes down to whether the trial court properly found that the officer's observation from the doorway furnished exigent circumstances for the entry and seizure. The Washington Supreme Court did not review this finding of the trial court, but it should have before setting the conviction aside. I would therefore vacate and remand for this purpose.
1. The officer testified at the suppression hearing that he had entered the room for just one purpose -- "to affirm my beliefs and to seize the articles, if they were [contraband]." Tr. 44.
The officer also testified:
I stood in the doorway without entering, actually physically entering the room. . . . I was standing against the doorjamb. . . . I was not in the room. I was in the doorway.
Id. at 7, 9, 21.
The trial court stated in its memorandum opinion that "[t]he officer stoood in the doorway, and watched [Overdahl]," observed the seashell pipe and the seeds from the doorway, and "then entered the room and examined the pipe and seeds closely." App. 47 (emphasis added). Similarly, the Court of Appeals stated:
Prior to entering the room, the officer saw from his vantage point in the doorway what he believed to be contraband. Only at that time did he cross the threshold and seize the pipe and marijuana seeds.
24 Wash.App. 385, 389, 600 P.2d 1316, 1318 (1979) (emphasis added).
As I read the Supreme Court of Washington's opinion, the court held that, whether or not the officer had physically entered the room by standing in the doorway, his presence in the doorway was sufficiently intrusive that his observations were unlawful unless he could justify his presence. The court concluded that the officer should have remained outside the room, since there was no indication that Overdahl was likely to escape, destroy evidence, or seize a weapon.
2. One of the many cases cited in Coolidge to illustrate this point was Taylor v. United States, 286 U.S. 1 (1932). The police omcers in Talor had looked through a small opening in a garage and had seen cardboard cases inside the garage that they believed contained contraband liquor. The officers could smell the odor of whiskey coming from the garage. Yet this Court held that they had violated the Fourth Amendment by entering the garage and seizing the whiskey without obtaining a warrant.
3. There is no contention in this case that, by entering the dormitory building, the officer had already entered respondents dwelling. The officer himself testified at trial that a dormitory room is considered a private area, but that the public has access to the hallway. Tr. 37.
4. Harris v. United States, 390 U.S. 234 (1968), is not to the contrary. There, an automobile had been impounded and towed to a police station. The windows of the car were open, the doors were unlocked, and it had begun to rain. The Court held that the Fourth Amenclment did not require the police officer to obtain a warrant before opening the door of the car to roll up the car window, for this was simply "a measure taken to protect the car while it was in police custody." Id. at 236. Harris did not rely on the plain view doctrine to justify the warrantless intrusion into the automobile. The Court emphasized that the police officer had already lawfully entered the car when he saw incriminating evidence in plain view inside the car and seized it:
Once the door had lawfully been opened, the registration card, with the name of the robbery victim on it, was plainly visible. It has long been settled that objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure, and may be introduced in evidence.
Ibid. (emphasis added). The broad wording of the second sentence quoted above has apparently created some confusion regarding the plain view doctrine. One commentator remarked:
The hardest conceptual problem attending the plain view doctrine is to grasp that it is not a universal statement of the right of a policeman to seize after seeing something in open view; it is rather a limited statement of that right in one of its several instances -- following a valid intrusion. . . . The source of difficulty is that the harbinger case, Harris v. United States, spoke carelessly in universal terms:
It has long been settled that objects falling in the plain view of an officer who has a right to be in the position to have that view are subject to seizure. . . .
Seeing something in open view does not, of course, dispose . . . of the problem of crossing constitutionally protected thresholds.
Moylan, The Plain View Doctrine: Unexpected Child of the Great "Search Incident" Geography Battle, 26 Mercer L.Rev. 1047, 1096 (1975). See also 1 W. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 2.2(a) (1978).449 U.S. 1 (1980), for example, we held that an officer's obseration of items in plain view inside a car did not violate the occupant's Fourth Amendment rights. Id. at 4, n. 4. The officer's observations could therefore be used to establish probable cause to search the car. Yet it was also necessary to justify the warrantless intrusion into the car. We did not seek to justify that intrusion by relying on the plain view doctrine. Rather, we held that the warrantless entry was justified under the "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement. See Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42 (1970); Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1926).