Criminal Procedure, Pages 271–275

New York v. Burger

Supreme Court of the United States, 1987

Facts:

Burger owned a junkyard, which five police officers entered to conduct an inspection pursuant to New York law. They asked to see his license and police book (a log), but he had neither. They then copied down the VINs of vehicles and discovered that several were stolen. Burger was then charged with five counts of possession of stoled property and one count of unregistered operation as a vehicle dismantler.

Issues:

  • Is a warrantless search of commercial property valid under the Fourth Amendment pursuant to a statute authorizing it?

  • Is an administrative inspection constitutional if the ultimate purpose is the deterrence of criminal behavior?

Reasoning:

  • The 4th applies to both commercial premises and private homes, but it afford more protection to an individual's home. Commercial property in "closely regulated" industries have even less of an expectation of privacy than other businesses'. This weakness may permit warrantless administrative inspections.

  • This is a closely regulated business as the law commonly imposes many requirements on junkyard owners, such as the requirement to keep a license and police book and to display his registration number in many places, and junkyard owners are subject to criminal penalties for failing to comply with these regulations. Other states have similarly extensive regulations.

    1. The state has a substantial interest in regulating this industry as vehicle theft has increased and is associated with it.
    2. The regulation reason serves the state's interest in eradicating automotive theft, and the administrative inspections are necessary to further the regulatory scheme.
    3. The statute informs the operator of a vehicle dismantling business will be made on a regular basis. The law also sets forth the scope permitted and who is permitted to carry it out. Thus owners of junkyards are put on notice.

Rule:

For a warrantless administrative search of a closely regulated business to be valid:

  1. There must be a substantial government interest that informs the regulatory scheme pursuant to which the inspection is made.
  2. The warrantless inspections must be "necessary to further [the] regulatory scheme."
  3. "[T]he statute's inspection program, in terms of the certainty and regularity of its application, [must] provid[e] a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant."
    • It must:
      1. Advise the property owner that the search is being made pursuant to the inspecting officers and has a properly defined scope
      2. Limit officer discretion

Holding:

The warrantless search of the junkyard is valid under the 4th as it is a closely regulated business.