Rehearing Denied Oct. 10, 1949.
Mr. Irvine E. Ungerman, Tulsa, Okl., for petitioner.
Mr. Stanley M. Silverberg, Washington, D.C., for respondent.
Mr. Justice RUTLEDGE delivered the opinion of the Court.
Brinegar was convicted of importing intoxicating liquor into Oklahoma from Missouri in violation of the federal statute which forbids such importation contrary to the laws of any state. 1 His conviction was based in [338 U.S. 160 , 162] par on the use in evidence against him of liquor seized from his automobile in the course of the alleged unlawful importation.
Prior to the trial Brinegar moved to suppress this evidence as having been secured through an unlawful search and seizure. 2 The motion was denied, as was a renewal of the objection at the trial.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, 10 Cir., 165 F.2d 512, and certiorari was sought solely on the ground that the search and seizure contravened the Fourth Amendment and therefore the use of the liquor in evidence vitiated the conviction. We granted the writ to determine this question. 333 U.S. 841 .
The facts are substantially undisputed. At about six o'clock on the evening of March 3, 1947, Malsed, an investigator of the Alcohol Tax Unit, and Creehan, a special investigator, were parked in a car beside a highway near the Quapaw Bridge in northeastern Oklahoma. The point was about five miles west of the Missouri-Oklahoma line. Brinegar drove past headed west in his Ford coupe. Malsed had arrested him about five months earlier for illegally transporting liquor; had seen him loading liquor into a car or truck in Joplin, Missouri, on at least two occasions during the preceding six months; and knew him to have a reputation for hauling liquor. As Brinegar passed, Malsed recognized both him and the Ford. He told Creehan, who was driving the officers' car, that [338 U.S. 160 , 163] Brinegar was the driver of the passing car. Both agents later testified that the car, but not especially its rear end, appeared to be 'heavily loaded' and 'weighted down with something.' Brinegar increased his speed as he passed the officers. They gave chase. After pursuing him for about a mile at top speed, they gained on him as his car skidded on a curve, sounded their siren, overtook him, and crowded his car to the side of the road by pulling across in front of it. The highway was one leading from Joplin, Missouri, toward Vinita, Oklahoma, Brinegar's home.
As the agents got out of their car and walked back toward petitioner, Malsed said, 'Hello, Brinegar, how much liquor have you got in the car?' or 'How much liquor have you got in the car this time?' Petitioner replied, 'Not too much,' or 'Not so much.' After further questioning he admitted that he had twelve cases in the car. Malsed testified that one case, which was on the front seat, was visible from outside the car, but petitioner testified that it was covered by a lap robe. Twelve more cases w re found under and behind the front seat. The agents then placed Brinegar under arrest and seized the liquor.
The district judge, after a hearing on the motion to suppress at which the facts stated above appeared in evidence, was of the opinion that 'the mere fact that the agents knew that this defendant was engaged in hauling whiskey, even coupled with the statement that the car appeared to be weighted, would not be probable cause for the search of this car.' Therefore, he thought, there was no probable cause when the agents began the chase. He held, however, that the voluntary admission made by petitioner after his car had been stopped constituted probable cause for a search, regardless of the legality of the arrest and detention, and that therefore the evidence was admissible. At the trial, as has been said, the court overruled petitioner's renewal of the objection. [338 U.S. 160 , 164] The Court of Appeals, one judge dissenting, took essentially the view held by the District Court. The dissenting judge thought that the search was unlawful and therefore statements made during its course could not justify the search.
The crucial question is whether there was probable cause for Brinegar's arrest, in the light of prior adjudications on this problem, more particularly Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 39 A.L.R. 790, which on its face most closely approximates the situation presented here.