Supreme Court of the United States
State of DELAWARE, Petitioner,
William J. PROUSE, III.
Argued Jan. 17, 1979.
Decided March 27, 1979.
Appeal was taken by the State from an order of the Superior Court granting defendant’s motion to suppress in a criminal prosecution, finding that automobile stop and detention violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of Delaware, 382 A.2d 1359, affirmed, and certiorari was granted. The Supreme Court of the United States, Mr. Justice White, held that except in those situations in which there is at least articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or that an automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law, stopping an automobile and detaining the driver in order to check his driver’s license and the registration of the automobile are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.
Mr. Justice Blackmun filed a concurring opinion in which Mr. Justice Powell joined.
Mr. Justice Rehnquist filed a dissenting opinion.
FN* The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Timber & Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337, 26 S.Ct. 282, 287, 50 L.Ed. 499.
A patrolman in a police cruiser stopped an automobile occupied by respondent and seized marihuana in plain view on the car floor. Respondent was subsequently indicted for illegal possession of a controlled substance. At a hearing on respondent’s motion to suppress the marihuana, the patrolman testified that prior to stopping the vehicle he had observed neither traffic or equipment violations nor any suspicious activity, and that he made the stop only in order to check the driver’s license and the car’s registration. The patrolman was not acting pursuant to any standards, guidelines, or procedures pertaining to document spot checks, promulgated by either his department or the State Attorney General. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, finding the stop and detention to have been wholly capricious and therefore violative of the Fourth Amendment. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed. Held:
1. This Court has jurisdiction in this case even though the Delaware Supreme Court held that the stop at issue not only violated the Federal Constitution but also was impermissible under the Delaware Constitution. That court’s opinion shows that even if the State Constitution would have provided an adequate basis for the judgment below, the court did not intend to rest its decision independently on the State Constitution, its holding instead depending upon its view of the reach of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp. 1395-1396.
2. Except where there is at least articulable and reasonable suspicion that a motorist is unlicensed or that an automobile is not registered, or that either the vehicle or an occupant is otherwise subject to seizure for violation of law, stopping an automobile and detaining the driver in order to check his driver’s license and the registration of the automobile are unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 1396-1401.
(a) Stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitute a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief. The permissibility of a particular law enforcement practice is judged by balancing its intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against its promotion of legitimate governmental interests. Pp. 1396-1397.
*649 b) The State’s interest in discretionary spot checks as a means of ensuring the safety of its roadways does not outweigh the resulting intrusion on the privacy and security of the persons detained. Given the physical and psychological intrusion visited upon the occupants of a vehicle by a random stop to check documents, cf. United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 45 L.Ed.2d 607; United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S.
543, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116, the marginal contribution to roadway safety possibly resulting from a system of spot checks cannot justify subjecting every occupant of every vehicle on the roads to a seizure at the unbridled discretion of law enforcement officials. Pp. 1397-1400.
(c) An individual operating or traveling in an automobile does not lose all reasonable expectation of privacy simply because the automobile and its use are subject to government regulation. People are not **1394 shorn of all Fourth Amendment protection when they step from their homes onto the public sidewalk; nor are they shorn of those interests when they step from the sidewalks into their automobiles. Pp. 1400-1401.
(d) The holding in this case does not preclude Delaware or other States from developing methods for spot checks that involve less intrusion or that do not involve the unconstrained exercise of discretion. Questioning of all oncoming traffic at roadblock-type stops is one possible alternative. P. 1401.
382 A.2d 1359, affirmed.
Charles M. Oberly, III, Wilmington, Del., for petitioner.
David M. Lukoff, Wilmington, Del., for respondent.
*650 Mr. Justice WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
The question is whether it is an unreasonable seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to stop an automobile, being driven on a public highway, for the purpose of checking the driving license of the operator and the registration of the car, where there is neither probable cause to believe nor reasonable suspicion that the car is being driven contrary to the laws governing the operation of motor vehicles or that either the car or any of its occupants is subject to seizure or detention in connection with the violation of any other applicable law.
At 7:20 p. m. on November 30, 1976, a New Castle County, Del., patrolman in a police cruiser stopped the automobile occupied by respondent. FN1 The patrolman smelled marihuana smoke as he was walking toward the stopped vehicle, and he seized marihuana in plain view on the car floor. Respondent was subsequently indicted for illegal possession of a controlled substance. At a hearing on respondent’s motion to suppress the marihuana seized as a result of the stop, the patrolman testified that prior to stopping the vehicle he had observed neither traffic or equipment violations nor any suspicious activity, and that he made the stop only in order to check the driver’s license and registration. The patrolman was not acting pursuant to any standards, guidelines, or procedures pertaining to document spot checks, promulgated by either his department or the State Attorney General. Characterizing the stop as “routine,” the patrolman explained, “I saw the car *651 in the area and wasn’t answering any complaints, so I decided to pull them off.” App. A9. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, finding the stop and detention to have been wholly capricious and therefore violative of the Fourth Amendment.
FN1. In its opinion, the Delaware Supreme Court referred to respondent as the operator of the vehicle, see 382 A.2d 1359, 1361 (1978). However, the arresting officer testified: “I don’t believe [respondent] was the driver. . . . As I recall, he was in the back seat . . . ,” App. A12; and the trial court in its ruling on the motion to suppress referred to respondent as one of the four “occupants” of the vehicle, id., at A17. The vehicle was registered to respondent. Id., at A10.
The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed, noting first that “[t]he issue of the legal validity of systematic, roadblock-type stops of a number of vehicles for license and vehicle registration check is not now before the Court,” 382 A.2d 1359, 1362 (1978) (emphasis in original). The court held that “a random stop of a motorist in the absence of specific articulable facts which justify the stop by indicating a reasonable suspicion that a violation of the law has occurred is constitutionally impermissible and violative of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.” Id., at 1364. We granted certiorari to resolve the conflict between this decision, which is in accord with decisions in five other jurisdictions, FN2 and the contrary determination in **1395 six jurisdictions FN3 that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the kind of automobile stop that occurred here. 439 U.S. 816, 99 S.Ct. 76, 58 L.Ed.2d 107 (1978).
FN2. United States v. Montgomery, 182 U.S.App.D.C. 426, 561 F.2d 875 (1977); People v. Ingle, 36 N.Y.2d 413, 369 N.Y.S.2d 67, 330 N.E.2d 39 (1975); State v. Ochoa, 23 Ariz.App. 510, 534 P.2d 441 (1975), rev’d on other grounds, 112 Ariz. 582, 544 P.2d 1097 (1976); Commonwealth v. Swanger, 453 Pa. 107, 307 A.2d 875 (1973); United States v. Nicholas, 448 F.2d 622 (CA8 1971). See also United States v. Cupps, 503 F.2d 277 (CA6 1974).
FN3. State v. Holmberg, 194 Neb. 337, 231 N.W.2d 672 (1975); State v. Allen, 282 N.C. 503, 194 S.E.2d 9 (1973); Palmore v. United States, 290 A.2d 573 (D.C.App.1972), aff’d on jurisdictional grounds only, 411 U.S. 389, 93 S.Ct. 1670, 36 L.Ed.2d 342 (1973); Leonard v. State, 496 S.W.2d 576 (Tex.Cr.App.1973); United States v. Jenkins, 528 F.2d 713 (CA10 1975); Myricks v. United States, 370 F.2d 901 (CA5), cert. dismissed, 386 U.S. 1015, 87 S.Ct. 1366, 18 L.Ed.2d 474 (1967).
 Because the Delaware Supreme Court held that the stop at issue not only violated the Federal Constitution but also *652 was impermissible under Art. I, § 6, of the Delaware Constitution, it is urged that the judgment below was based on an independent and adequate state ground and that we therefore have no jurisdiction in this case. Fox Film Corp. v. Muller, 296 U.S. 207, 210, 56 S.Ct. 183, 184, 80 L.Ed. 158 (1935). At least, it is suggested, the matter is sufficiently uncertain that we should remand for clarification as to the ground upon which the judgment rested. California v. Krivda, 409 U.S. 33, 35, 93 S.Ct. 32, 33, 34 L.Ed.2d 45 (1972). Based on our reading of the opinion, however, we are satisfied that even if the State Constitution would have provided an adequate basis for the judgment, the Delaware Supreme Court did not intend to rest its decision independently on the State Constitution and that we have jurisdiction of this case.
As we understand the opinion below, Art. I, § 6, of the Delaware Constitution will automatically be interpreted at least as broadly as the Fourth Amendment; FN4 that is, every police practice authoritatively determined to be contrary to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments will, without further analysis, be held to be contrary to Art. I, § 6. This approach, which is consistent with previous opinions of the Delaware Supreme Court, FN5 was followed in this case. The court analyzed *653 the various decisions interpreting the Federal Constitution, concluded that the Fourth Amendment foreclosed spot checks of automobiles, and summarily held that the State Constitution was therefore also infringed. This is one of those cases where “at the very least, the [state] court felt compelled by what it understood to be federal constitutional considerations to construe . . . its own law in the manner it did.” Zacchini v. Scripps-Howard Broadcasting Co., 433 U.S. 562, 568, 97 S.Ct. 2849, 2853, 53 L.Ed.2d 965 (1977). Had state law not been mentioned at all, there would be no question about our jurisdiction, even though the State Constitution **1396 might have provided an independent and adequate state ground. Ibid. The same result should follow here where the state constitutional holding depended upon the state court’s view of the reach of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. If the state court misapprehended federal law, “[i]t should be freed to decide . . . these suits according to its own local law.” Missouri ex rel. Southern R. Co. v. Mayfield, 340 U.S. 1, 5, 71 S.Ct. 1, 3, 95 L.Ed. 3 (1950).
FN4. The court stated:
“The Delaware Constitution Article I, § 6 is substantially similar to the Fourth Amendment and a violation of the latter is necessarily a violation of the former. 382 A.2d, at 1362, citing State v. Moore, 55 Del. 356, 187 A.2d 807 (1963).
Moore was decided less than two years after Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081 (1961), applied to the States the limitations previously imposed only on the Federal Government. In setting forth the approach reiterated in the opinion below, Moore noted not only the common purposes and wording of the Fourth Amendment and the state constitutional provision, but also the overriding effect of the former. See 55 Del., at 362-363, 187 A.2d, at 810-811.
FN5. We have found only one case decided after State v. Moore, supra, in which the court relied solely on state law in upholding the validity of a search or seizure, and that case involved not only Del.Const. Art. I, § 6, but also state statutory requirements for issuance of a search warrant. Rossitto v. State, Del., 234 A.2d 438 (1967). Moreover, every case holding a search or seizure to be contrary to the state constitutional provision relies on cases interpreting the Fourth Amendment and simultaneously concludes that the search or seizure is contrary to that provision. See, e. g., Young v. State, Del., 339 A.2d 723 (1975); Freeman v. State, Del., 317 A.2d 540 (1974); cf. Bertomeu v. State, Del., 310 A.2d 865 (1973).
   The Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments are implicated in this case because stopping an automobile and detaining its occupants constitute a “seizure” within the meaning of those Amendments, even though the purpose of the stop is limited and the resulting detention quite brief. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 556-558, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 3082-3083, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 2578, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975); cf. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1877, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). The essential purpose of the proscriptions in the Fourth Amendment is to impose a standard *654 of “reasonableness” FN6 upon the exercise of discretion by government officials, including law enforcement agents, in order ” ‘to safeguard the privacy and security of individuals against arbitrary invasions . . . .’ ” Marshall v. Barlow’s, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 312, 98 S.Ct. 1816, 1820 (1978), quoting Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 528, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 1730, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967). FN7 Thus, the permissibility of a particular law enforcement practice is judged by balancing its intrusion on the individual’s Fourth Amendment interests against its promotion of legitimate governmental interests. FN8 Implemented in this manner, the reasonableness standard usually requires, at a minimum, that the facts upon which an intrusion is based be capable of measurement against “an objective standard,” FN9 whether this be probable cause FN10 or a less stringent test. FN11 In those situations in which the balance of interests precludes insistence upon “some quantum *655 of individualized suspicion,” FN12 other safeguards are generally relied upon **1397 to assure that the individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy is not “subject to the discretion of the official in the field,” Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S., at 532, 87 S.Ct., at 1733. See id., at 534-535, 87 S.Ct. at 1733-1734; Marshall v. Barlow’s, Inc., supra, 436 U.S. at 320-321, 98 S.Ct. at 1824-1825; United States v. United States District Court, 407 U.S. 297, 322-323, 92 S.Ct. 2125, 2139, 32 L.Ed.2d 752 (1972) (requiring warrants).
FN6. See Marshall v. Barlow’s, Inc., 436 U.S. 307, 315, 98 S.Ct. 1816, 1822 (1978); United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, 422 U.S. 873, 878, 95 S.Ct. 2574, 2578, 45 L.Ed.2d 607 (1975); Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S. 433, 439, 93 S.Ct. 2523, 2527, 37 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973); Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 20-21, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 1879, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 539, 87 S.Ct. 1727, 1736, 18 L.Ed.2d 930 (1967).
FN7. See also United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, 428 U.S. 543, 554, 96 S.Ct. 3074, 3081, 49 L.Ed.2d 1116 (1976); United States v. Ortiz, 422 U.S. 891, 895, 95 S.Ct. 2585, 2588, 45 L.Ed.2d 623 (1975); Almeida-Sanchez v. United States, 413 U.S. 266, 270, 93 S.Ct. 2535, 2538, 37 L.Ed.2d 596 (1973); Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 97, 85 S.Ct. 223, 228, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964); McDonald v. United States, 335 U.S. 451, 455-456, 69 S.Ct. 191, 193, 93 L.Ed. 153 (1948).
FN8. See, e. g., United States v. Ramsey, 431 U.S. 606, 616-619, 97 S.Ct. 1972, 1979-1980, 52 L.Ed.2d 612 (1977); United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra, 428 U.S. at 555, 96 S.Ct. at 3081; cases cited in n. 6, supra.
FN9. Terry v. Ohio, supra, 392 U.S. at 21, 88 S.Ct. at 1868. See also Scott v. United States, 436 U.S. 128, 137, 98 S.Ct. 1717, 1723, 56 L.Ed.2d 168 (1978); Beck v. Ohio, supra, 379 U.S. at 96-97, 85 S.Ct. at 228.
FN10. See, e. g., United States v. Santana, 427 U.S. 38, 96 S.Ct. 2406, 49 L.Ed.2d 300 (1976); United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 96 S.Ct. 820, 46 L.Ed.2d 598 (1976); Ker v. California, 374 U.S. 23, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726 (1963) (warrantless arrests requiring probable cause); United States v. Ortiz, supra; Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294, 87 S.Ct. 1642, 18 L.Ed.2d 782 (1967); Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132, 45 S.Ct. 280, 69 L.Ed. 543 (1925) (warrantless searches requiring probable cause). See also Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 95 S.Ct. 854, 43 L.Ed.2d 54 (1975).
FN11. See Terry v. Ohio, supra; United States v. Brignoni-Ponce, supra.
In addition, the Warrant Clause of the Fourth Amendment generally requires that prior to a search a neutral and detached magistrate ascertain that the requisite standard is met, see, e. g., Mincey v. Arizona, 437 U.S. 385, 98 S.Ct. 23 (1978).
FN12. United States v. Martinez-Fuerte, supra, 428 U.S. at 560, 96 S.Ct. at 3084.
In this case, however, the State of Delaware urges that patrol officers be subject to no constraints in deciding which automobiles shall be stopped for a license and registration check because the State’s interest in discretionary spot checks as a means of ensuring the safety of its roadways outweighs the resulting intrusion on the privacy and security of the persons detained.