Undercover prohibition agents met with the defendant and two accomplices to buy illegal whiskey. The defendant left to get the whiskey but could not do so because his source was not in. One of his accomplices informed the undercover agents they would deliver it the next day. The officers observed the vehicle and registration number the defendant and his accomplices were using during these negotiations.
The defendant did not make the arranged delivery the following day. A week later, while patrolling a highway commonly used to smuggle whiskey into the country the agents saw the defendant in the same car as before. They gave pursuit but lost the car. Two months after that, the agents again saw the defendant in the same car on the same road. The agents believed they had probable cause as the highway was often used in the illegal transportation of liquor, and they had information that the car and its occupants were engaged in the illegal business of “bootlegging.” The agents stopped the defendant, searched the car, and found sixty-eight bottles of illegal whiskey.
Whether the search of the defendant’s automobile without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment?
No. If an officer stops a car based on probable cause and conducts a search in order to preserve evidence due to the automobile’s mobility, the search may be conducted without a warrant.
The guarantee of freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures by the Fourth Amendment has been construed as recognizing a necessary difference between a search of a structure (whereby a warrant can readily be obtained) and a search of a vehicle (where it is not practical to secure a warrant because the vehicle can be quickly moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the warrant must be sought). Therefore, contraband goods concealed and illegally transported in an automobile or other vehicle may be searched for without a warrant if the agent has probable cause to believe the vehicle contains contraband.
267 U.S. 132, 45 S. Ct. 280 (1925)