Ornelas v. United States
Decided on May 28, 1996; 517 US 690


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Search and seizure

B. Legal Question Presented:

Should courts use a de novo standard in determining if a police search conducted without a warrant was based on reasonable suspicion and probable cause?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"In denying petitioners' motion to suppress cocaine found in their car, the District Court ruled that the police had reasonable suspicion to stop and question petitioners, and probable cause to remove one of the interior panels where a package containing the cocaine was found. The Court of Appeals ultimately affirmed both determinations, reviewing each 'deferentially,' and 'for clear error,' and finding no clear error in either instance."

On appeal the US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Tracey Maclin, Steven R. Shapiro, and Barbara E. Bergman filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.

Robert G. LeBell argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the briefs was Brian W. Gleason.

Cornelia T. L. Pillard argued the cause for the United States. With her on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Acting Assistant Attorney General Keeney, Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben, and Joel M. Gershowitz.
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The ultimate questions of reasonable suspicion to stop and probable cause to make a warrantless search should be reviewed de novo. The principal components of either inquiry are (1) a determination of the historical facts leading up to the stop or search, and (2) a decision on the mixed question of law and fact whether the historical facts, viewed from the standpoint of an objectively reasonable police officer, amount to reasonable suspicion or to probable cause...

However, a reviewing court should take care both to review findings of historical fact only for clear error and to give due weight to inferences drawn therefrom by resident judges, who view such facts in light of the community's distinctive features and events, and by local police, who view the facts through the lens of their experience and expertise."

The US Supreme Court vacated and remanded the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 1 Con

  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • O'Connor, S. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote dissenting opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the Court of Appeals' judgment; the Supreme Court vacated and remanded in a 8-1 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.