Washington Law Review


Suzanne Oliver


In Arkansas v. Sanders, the U.S. Supreme Court held that in the absence of exigent circumstances, police must obtain a warrant before searching luggage taken from an automobile lawfully stopped and searched for contraband. The majority opinion, written by Justice Powell, sharply restricts further extension of the "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement of the fourth amendment. The Court found the exception inapplicable for two reasons. First, a suitcase in the custody of police lacks the inherent mobility of an automobile. Second, there is a much greater expectation of privacy associated with luggage than is associated with a car. A caustic dissent by Justice Blackman joined by Justice Rehnquist argued that the majority's decision creates an impracticable and confusing rule that makes little sense in terms of fourth amendment policy. This note will examine the interaction in Arkansas v. Sanders of the legitimate expectation of privacy doctrine, the "automobile exception," and the exigent circumstances exception. The note will conclude that despite the ambiguity of the majority's method of determining when a container gives rise to legitimate expectation of privacy, Sanders is a reaffirmation of fourth amendment rights which had been threatened by the ever-increasing number of exceptions to the warrant clause.

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