To my knowledge, no academic articles have used this moniker to describe cursory, warrantless searches of cars or premises, but the phrase appears to be emerging as part of the nomenclature of appellate courts, and seems to be a regular part of police jargon. A “quick look” appears fairly consistently as part of police requests for consent to a search, and courts must then analyze the scope of the authorized search when a suspect acquiesces to such verbiage.
The phrase “quick look” semantically suggests something like a plain view/plain touch search, but some courts hold that the scope is the same as for a full search, including the opening of closed containers.
See, e.g., U.S. v. Rosborough, 366 F.3d 1145, 1151 (10th Cir. 2004)(distinguishing case from "the case in Wald, where we held that an officer's request to take a "quick look” constitutes a limited request to search); U.S. v. Wald, 216 F.3d 1222, 1228 (10th Cir. 2000) (scope of consent exceeded because officer's statement that he just wanted to take a “quick look inside the vehicle” limited consent to vehicle interior and did not extend to trunk). Within the 10th Circuit, however, these cases must be reconciled with U.S. v. Ramstad, 308 F.3d 1139, 1146-47 (10th Cir. 2002)(consent to let officer take a "quick look" around motor home authorized a search of closed containers as well). The Sixth and Eighth Circuit seems to be taking a similar approach – see U.S. v. Walsh, 299 F.3d 729, 733 (8th Cir. 2002)(holding that officers' "quick look" into storage shed was justified by exigent circumstances, but "quick look" into bedroom was not, leading to admissible of evidence from the former and exclusion of evidence from the latter); U.S. v. Purcell, 526 F.3d 953, 957 (6th Cir. 2008)(discussing "consent for quick look around bedroom" as opposed to subsequent consent for more complete search). [click below to read more]
A similar trend is emerging among state appellate courts as well; see State v. Brown, 294 S.W.3d 553, 563-65 (Tenn. 2009)(holding that consent to a "quick look" in the car during roadside stop limited the scope to a plain view/plain touch search); People v. Bernstein, 890 N.E.2d 1225 (Ill.App. 3 Dist 2008)(police requested permission for a "quick look" during roadside stop; court held that 7-minute subsequent search was not consensual).
In contrast, other circuits are using consent to a “quick look” as the equivalent of consent to a full-blown search. See U.S. v. Mendoza-Gonzalez, 318 F.3d 663, 667 (5th Cir. 2003) (holding that consent to a "quick look" constitutes "general consent to search"); U.S. v. Porter, 49 Fed.Appx. 438, 440-43 (4th Cir. 2002)(officer asking for consent for "quick look" during roadside vehicle search did not limit authorized scope of subsequent search to plain view); United States v. Montilla, 928 F.2d 583, 587 (2d Cir.1991) (officers asked to take a “quick look,” and acquiescence constituted consent for complete search, not merely plain view search). And at least one state court has adopted a similar approach - State v. Washington, 898 N.E.2d 1200, 1207 (Ind. 2008)(officer asked if he could “take a quick look” in the car; court upheld search of glove box).
What caught my eye was that the academic literature has never once used the phrase - I discovered this when I went hunting for a "source" to cite, to appease my editors on a forthcoming article - and I realized I must have picked it up from cases I read. When I searched cases, the phrase started coming up all over the place (in the courts of appeals, never the Supreme Court) starting in the late 80s and increasing since then. My curiosity then got the best of me and I started reading through every instance.
No courts are using it yet as shorthand or as a legal formula. In the field of securities regulation, "quick look" review is actually shorthand for a specific doctrine, a type of evidentiary inquiry that is triggered under certain circumstances. In criminal procedure, it's just the favorite expression of the police, but it is trickling its way up into judicial opinions, which I find interesting.
It seems that police almost always use the words "quick look" when asking for consent to do a search, and there seems to be a circuit split over the scope of the consent that this phrase authorizes - the more restrictive rulings allow the cop to look inside the car or premises and touch objects or containers, but not necessarily to open closed containers. I am characterizing it as a Plain View/Plain Touch rule - that's not what the courts call it, but in practice that's what they're allowing. The more permissive (police-friendly) circuits say that "quick look" means the police can do a full search, opening everything, removing side panels of the car or motor home, etc.
See also U.S. v. Montilla, 928 F.2d 583 (2nd Cir. 1991) (district court holds that drug agent's request to take a "quick look" was "offhand" and did not suffice to obtain consent to search; appellate court reverses).
- Prof. Dru Stevenson