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Posted on August 31st, 2012, by

“On February 10, 1984, a police officer in Boulder, Colorado, arrested respondent Steven Lee Bertine for driving while under the influence of alcohol. After Bertine was taken into custody and before the arrival of a tow truck to take Bertine’s van to an impoundment lot, a backup officer inventoried the contents of the van. The officer opened a closed backpack in which he found controlled substances, cocaine paraphernalia, and a large amount of cash. Bertine was subsequently charged with driving while under the influence of alcohol, unlawful possession of cocaine with intent to dispense, sell, and distribute, and unlawful possession of methaqualone” (OpenJurist, 2009). That is the gist description of the case Colorado vs Steven Lee Bertine. The case attracted the attention of society with its supposed right violation of the respondent. The case attracted the juridical world’s attention as a complicated case in the practice. Should the police officer examine the van or not, lets see further.

According to the data the officer held inspection of the van according to the “local police procedure” (OpenJurist, 2009) and found a nylon bag with metal canisters. Examining metal canisters, the police officer found that they contained “cocaine, methaqualone tablets, cocaine paraphernalia, and $700 in cash. In an outside zippered pouch of the backpack, he also found $210 in cash in a sealed envelope” (OpenJurist, 2009). Having finished the procedure, the policeman brought findings in the police station. The respondent was charged in drug offences, but he actually tried to suppress the “evidence found during the inventory search on the ground, inter alia, that the search of the closed backpack and containers exceeded the permissible scope of such search under the Fourth Amendment” (OpenJurist, 2009). The trial Court of Colorado actually supported arrest of the respondent and supported the policemen in their decision. But the responded insisted on the fact that his rights were violated and the inventory of the van was held in a slipshod manner. The interesting fact is that District Court came to the conclusion that “the search of the backpack was done for the purpose of protecting the owner’s property, protection of the police from subsequent claims of loss or stolen property, and the protection of the police from dangerous instrumentalities” (OpenJurist, 2009). The court noted that it was a standard procedure for the impounded vehicles, which includes detailed examining of the vehicle in order to protect personal property and esprit de corps. Finally, the court came to determining the fact that detailed inventory search did not violated the rights of the respondent under the Fourth Amendment of Federal Constitution, but the same time the court gave the Bertine ability to suppress, according to the fact that such an inventory search violated the Constitution of Colorado State.

The final decision of the Supreme Court was announced: “The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the State from proving the criminal charges with the evidence discovered during the inventory search of respondent’s van. This case is controlled by the principles governing inventory searches of automobiles and of an arrestee’s personal effects, as set forth in South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U. S. 364, and Illinois v. Lafayette, 462 U. S. 640, rather than those governing searches of closed trunks and suitcases conducted solely for the purpose of investigating criminal conduct” (US Supreme Court Center, 2009). Showing that there was no actual crime committed by policemen and the rights of Steven Lee Bertine were not actually violated. It is indicative that the majority voted for Colorado, 7 person and only 2 for minority, the respondent, Steven Lee Bertine.

The majority opinion delivered by Justice William H. Rehnquist did not find any rights violation of the respondent and concluded that that there were no offensive actions from the policemen side. They support the statement that the Fourth Amendment “does not prohibit the State from proving the criminal charges with the evidence discovered during the inventory search of respondent’s van” (US Supreme Court Center, 2009) using the supportive cases of Lafayette and Opperman.

The Minority opinion differed oppositely and they do not find the Lafayette and Opperman cases to be appropriate example to make such a serious court decision. They considered that the policemen violated the Fourth Amendment and thought that this case require opposite result of voting as they are persuaded “This search””it cannot legitimately be labeled an inventory””was unreasonable and violated the Fourth Amendment” (ALTLaw, 2009)

It is important to note that this complicated case will be very hard to define. In my personal opinion I support the opinion of the majority as the evidence of respondent’s offence is present. I think it will be very hard to define whether the rights of Steven Lee Bertine were violated or not, being absent on the place. But I think that the all the necessary procedures were observed and there was no case of rights violation. It will be also necessary to make a certain stress on this case, as the situation with drug offences in the country is becoming worse, in some states. FBI and police are doing their best, but this case shows that the criminals are using different, sometimes very keen methods to keep safe their criminal actions. This case clearly shows that criminals are using the law in order to avoid punishment. The attention of society was attracted to this case as it showed how masterfully could be used some cases for double thinking. Former criminal could easily become the person whose rights were violated by policemen. This case is not the single one, and in our era, when in some states some ”˜light drugs’ are becoming legalized, the attention society should be attracted by such using of the law in order to make the criminal spick and span behind the law.

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