Pardon this slight detour into legal talk, but with my criminal procedure exam coming up this article from last week caught my eye:
Police find four suitcases of cocaine in vehicle
PHILADELPHIA - A state trooper patrolling Interstate 95 in Philadelphia found four suitcases full of cocaine during a traffic stop.
Police say Trooper Joseph Thompson got the driver's consent to search the vehicle Thursday afternoon near the Allegheny Avenue exit. He found the cocaine, which totaled 50 kilograms, or more than 100 pounds.
Police say four people are in custody and the Chevrolet Suburban was confiscated.
This looks a lot like a shorter version of an exam question. Typically there'd be a lot more legal issues in the exam question, but in this situation the only issue is whether the police search of the car and suitcases was legal under the Fourth Amendment. The officer got the driver's consent to search the car, but did that include the right to open and search the suitcases? It sure did. If the defendant tries to suppress the evidence (the drugs) at trial, the prosecution can simply point to California v. Acevedo, in which the Supreme Court held that a vehicle search can include a search of any containers inside the vehicle.
In fact, the police didn't even need the driver's consent - if they had probable cause to search the car then they could also search the suitcases. Or if they arrested the driver (for any valid offense) then they could search the entire car as a search incident to arrest. All of these rules come from lines of Supreme Court cases decided and refined in the last fifty years or so. By the way, the article doesn't say this, but a different version of the same article said that the car was pulled over for tailgating (there does need to be a valid reason for a traffic stop, whether violation of the traffic code or probable cause).
This is the kind of stuff we cover in class. Search and seizure, right to an attorney, Miranda warnings, stop and frisk, etc. Really interesting stuff.
Another nonlegal issue is why the driver, knowing he had over 100 pounds of cocaine in the car, consented to the search. Maybe he thought he didn't have a choice, or maybe he thought if he refused then that would give the officer probable cause to search (it wouldn't). Or maybe he was a little thick.