Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 2 (1996)

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Cite as: 517 U. S. 690 (1996)

Opinion of the Court

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.

Peter D. Isakoff, by invitation of the Court, 516 U. S. 1008, argued the cause and filed a brief as amicus curiae in support of the judgment below.*

Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners each pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. They reserved their right to appeal the District Court's denial of their motion to suppress the cocaine found in their car. The District Court had found reasonable suspicion to stop and question petitioners as they entered their car, and probable cause to remove one of the interior panels where a package containing two kilograms of cocaine was found. The Court of Appeals opined that the findings of reasonable suspicion to stop, and probable cause to search, should be reviewed "deferentially," and "for clear error." We hold that the ultimate questions of reasonable suspicion and probable cause to make a warrantless search should be reviewed de novo.

The facts are not disputed. In the early morning of a December day in 1992, Detective Michael Pautz, a 20-year veteran of the Milwaukee County Sheriff's Department with 2 years specializing in drug enforcement, was conducting drug-interdiction surveillance in downtown Milwaukee.

*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.

Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, James P. Manak, and Bernard J. Farber filed a brief for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc., et al. as amici curiae urging affirmance.


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