U.S. v. Burnett – Case Brief Summary (Federal Court)

In U.S. v. Burnett, 791 F.2d 64 (6th Cir. 1986), the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit rejected the user-dealer distinction. Two ounces of marijuana were observed by an officer of the Cincinnati Airport Police on the floorboard of a driver's vehicle. Id. at 65.

The officer arrested the driver and an occupant of the vehicle. Id.

After the vehicle was impounded, officers discovered, during an inventory search, 245 grams of cocaine located within a resealed champagne box. Id. at 65-66.

On appeal, the Sixth Circuit was asked to determine whether the finding of only two ounces of marijuana in the passenger compartment of the vehicle supported probable cause to search the vehicle's trunk. Id. at 66-67.

The court held that it did and explained:

The focal point of appellant's argument is that two ounces of marijuana found on the floorboard of the car indicates that the appellant is only a casual user of narcotics as opposed to a dealer. Consequently, it is argued that the officer had probable cause to search only the passenger area of the car and not the trunk. The appellant is asking this Court to burden the police with having to make another judgment call -- whether a certain amount of marijuana, cocaine, or other drug found on a person or in some container makes the person a casual user or a dealer. Determining the existence of probable cause to search on the amount of contraband initially found is a line which need not and should not be drawn. Probable cause has never been defined quantitatively and the appellant's theory that "smaller is not necessarily bigger" must be rejected. From the long history of litigated drug cases, it is evident that neither the casual user nor the dealer fits any precise description or category. Id. at 67