Officers established probable cause that four men in a blue station wagon committed an armed robbery. Within an hour, officers stopped a blue station wagon containing four men approximately two miles from the crime scene. Officers arrested the men and drove their vehicle to the police station where it was searched without a warrant. Inside the vehicle, officers found evidence connected to the robbery
Whether the warrantless search of the automobile and the seizure of the evidence was lawful?
Yes. A warrantless search of a vehicle is valid despite the fact that a warrant could have been procured without endangering the preservation of evidence.
Automobiles and other conveyances may be searched without a warrant, provided there is probable cause to believe the vehicle contains articles that the officers are entitled to seize. Having established that contraband concealed in a vehicle may be searched for without a warrant, the Court considered the circumstances under which such search may be made.
The Court saw no distinction in seizing and holding a car before presenting probable cause to a magistrate, and carrying out an immediate search without a warrant. Given probable cause to search, the Court held that either course is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The light blue station wagon could have been searched on the spot where it was stopped since there was probable cause to search. Therefore, the warrantless search that took place was reasonable.
399 U.S. 42, 90 S. Ct. 1975 (1970)