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Michigan v. Long

United States Supreme Court
463 U.S. 1032 (1983)

Michigan v. Long

Rule of Law

(1) The U.S. Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review a state court's decision to provide a defendant with broader procedural protections than those guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution unless the state court explicitly states that its decision is based on separate, adequate, and independent state grounds.

(2) The search of an automobile's passenger compartment, limited to those areas in which a weapon may be placed or hidden, is permissible if a law-enforcement officer reasonably believes, based on specific and articulable facts combined with the rational inferences from those facts, that the suspect is dangerous and may gain immediate control of weapons.


Facts

David Long (defendant) was stopped by police when officers observed Long's car swerve into a ditch after he had been traveling erratically at a high speed. Long met the officers at the rear of the car and did not respond to officers' repeated requests to produce his vehicle registration. The officers believed that Long may have been under the influence of some substance. Long began walking toward the car's open driver-side door. The officers followed him and saw a large hunting knife on the driver-side floorboard. At that point, officers conducted a protective patdown to check Long for weapons, but they did not find anything. One of the officers then shined his flashlight into the car to check for other weapons. The officer saw something sticking out from under the front armrest, and when the officer lifted the armrest, he found a pouch of marijuana. The officers then arrested Long and searched the rest of the car. They found no other contraband or weapons in the car's interior. Officers then decided to impound the car, and when one officer opened the car's unlocked trunk, he found 75 pounds of marijuana inside. Long was charged with possession of marijuana. He moved to suppress the marijuana found in the car's interior and trunk, but the trial court denied the motion. Long was convicted. Long’s appeal reached the Michigan Supreme Court, which reversed on the ground that the search of the car's interior went beyond that permitted by Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). The Michigan Supreme Court concluded that the marijuana found in the trunk was therefore fruit of the poisonous tree and suppressed the evidence. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Issue

(1) Does the U.S. Supreme Court have jurisdiction to review a state court's decision to provide a defendant with broader procedural protections than those guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution if the state court does not explicitly state that its decision is based on separate, adequate, and independent state grounds?

(2) Is the search of an automobile's passenger compartment permissible if a law-enforcement officer reasonably believes that the suspect is dangerous and may gain immediate control of weapons?

Holding and Reasoning (O’Connor, J.)

(1) Yes. A state court may provide a defendant with broader procedural protection than is guaranteed in the Constitution as a matter of state law. A ruling that is based on independent and adequate state grounds is not reviewable by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the state court must explicitly indicate that its ruling is based on separate, adequate, and independent state grounds. This must be apparent on the face of the opinion. If a court’s state-law basis is not explicitly stated, the state court’s decision will be reviewed under the assumption that the state court’s ruling was based on federal-law grounds. This rule will ensure consistency, which was sorely lacking in the ad hoc method of determining whether a state court’s decision rested on independent and adequate state grounds. Further, this will alleviate the need to delve into state law to make the determination or burden state courts by asking for clarification. State courts may of course look to federal precedent for guidance even if rulings are rooted in state law, but they should say so in the opinion. In this case, the Michigan Supreme Court’s decision was based solely on Terry and other federal cases. Therefore, there was no independent and adequate state ground for the decision, and the case may be reviewed.

(2) Yes. Although Terry involved the protective patdown of a suspect in search of weapons, this Court's subsequent precedent has recognized the significant dangers for law-enforcement officers during investigative detentions of suspects in vehicles. Accordingly, this Court has held that officers may order all of a vehicle's occupants out of the vehicle during a stop and may frisk them all if there is a reasonable belief that they are armed and dangerous. Similarly, after an officer arrests a suspect, the officer may search for weapons both on the arrested person and the area in the person's immediate control, including both the passenger compartment of a car and any open or closed containers found in the passenger compartment. Furthermore, if officers reasonably believe the suspect is dangerous, the suspect is dangerous whether or not he has been placed under arrest. Thus, even prior to a suspect's arrest, it is consistent with Terry to permit a search of a vehicle's passenger compartment if a law-enforcement officer reasonably believes, based on specific and articulable facts combined with the rational inferences from those facts, that a suspect is dangerous and may gain immediate control of weapons. The search must be limited to those areas in which a weapon may be placed or hidden. If officers find contraband besides weapons during the search of the vehicle, the Fourth Amendment does not require suppression of the contraband. In this case, the officers had a justifiable reasonable belief that Long posed a danger to them if they let him reenter the car. Long had been driving erratically and appeared to be under the influence, and officers observed a large knife on the driver's floorboard of the car. The further search was reasonable to ensure that there were no other weapons in Long's immediate grasp; it was limited to the car's passenger area and a pouch under the armrest that could have contained a weapon. Accordingly, the search is permissible under Terry. The Michigan Supreme Court's decision is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings including a determination of whether the search of Long's trunk was permissible under the Fourth Amendment.

Dissent (Brennan, J.)

The Court goes too far in extending to the Terry protective-search context the principles applicable to a search incident to a lawful arrest. A Terry search must be carefully limited in scope, but the Court's holding suggests no limit on what constitutes a permissible "area search."

Dissent (Stevens, J.)

This case involves important issues of federalism. The State of Michigan is not denying a citizen rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but rather is giving additional protections to that citizen. The Supreme Court should not bother with those cases. Just as the federal government would not intervene if a foreign government gave an American too many rights (as it would had the American been denied fundamental rights), the Court should not step in when a state does so. States seeking review of their own courts’ decisions is a relatively recent phenomenon, and the Court’s decision to grant review is erroneous. The Court’s purpose in ensuring “'uniformity in federal law’ is truly an ungovernable engine.”