Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 5 (1996)

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Opinion of the Court

After conducting an evidentiary hearing, the Magistrate Judge concluded that the circumstances gave the officers reasonable suspicion, but not probable cause. The Magistrate found, as a finding of fact, that there was no rust on the screw and hence concluded that Deputy Luedke had an insufficient basis to conclude that drugs would be found within the panel. The Magistrate nonetheless recommended that the District Court deny the suppression motions because he thought, given the presence of the drug-sniffing dog, that the officers would have found the cocaine by lawful means eventually and therefore the drugs were admissible under the inevitable discovery doctrine. See Nix v. Williams, 467 U. S. 431 (1984).

The District Court adopted the Magistrate's recommendation with respect to reasonable suspicion, but not its reasoning as to probable cause. The District Court thought that the model, age, and source-State origin of the car, and the fact that two men traveling together checked into a motel at 4 o'clock in the morning without reservations, formed a drug-courier profile and that this profile together with the NADDIS reports gave rise to reasonable suspicion of drug-trafficking activity; in the court's view, reasonable suspicion became probable cause when Deputy Luedke found the loose panel. Accordingly, the court ruled that the cocaine need not be excluded.2

The Court of Appeals reviewed deferentially the District Court's determinations of reasonable suspicion and probable cause; it would reverse only upon a finding of "clear error." 3

2 The District Court emphasized twice that it did not reject the Magistrate's recommendation with respect to the inevitable discovery doctrine. App. 30-31, and n. 2; id., at 43-44. But on appeal the Government did not defend the seizure on this alternative ground and the Seventh Circuit considered the argument waived. Id., at 71-72.

3 While the Seventh Circuit uses the term "clear error" to denote the deferential standard applied when reviewing determinations of reasonable suspicion or probable cause, we think the preferable term is "abuse of discretion." See Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U. S. 552, 558 (1988). "Clear

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