Today marks the 41st anniversary of the landmark decision of South Dakota v. Opperman in which the Supreme Court laid out the basis for what would be known as the Inventory search exception to the warrant requirement of the fourth amendment. This decision has allowed for a dramatic expansion in the number of warrantless searches the State can conduct.
The case that made up the basis of Opperman was surprisingly mundane, and yet indicative of the kind of cases that would be affected by this landmark ruling. In the early morning hours of December 10th, 1973, Mr. Opperman’s car was found illegally parked in downtown Vermillion, South Dakota. Pursuant to police procedures, the officers impounded the vehicle. However, as the officers impounded the car, they noticed a number of valuable items strewn about the interior of the vehicle. The officers, fearing that the items could be stolen opened the vehicle and inventoried the items inside of it. While searching the interior of the vehicle, the officers found a small amount of marijuana located in the glovebox. When Mr. Opperman came to the police station to retrieve his vehicle the following day, he was arrested on the spot for possession of marijuana.