California v. Carney
471 U.S. 386, 105 S. Ct. 2066, 85 L. Ed.2d 406 (1985)

  • The police watched Carney talking to an underage kid on the street. They watched the two enter Carney’s motor home. Later the kid came out the police stopped him and he admitted he’d let Carney fondle him in exchange for drugs.
    • Carney did not know that the police were on to him. The police had time to go get a warrant, but they chose not to do so.
  • Instead, the police had the kid knock on Carney’s door. When he opened it, without consent or a warrant, the police entered the motor home and found drugs lying in plain view. Carney was arrested and charged with drug possession.
  • The Trial Court convicted Carney of drug possession. He appealed.
    • Carney argued that the police did not have a warrant to enter his motor home. Therefore the search was unconstitutional.
  • The California Supreme Court overturned the conviction. The prosecutor appealed.
    • The California Supreme Court found that there was no warrant, therefore the search of Carney’s motor home was unreasonable.
  • The US Supreme Court reversed and upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court looked to Carroll v. United States (267 U.S. 132 (1925)), which held that there are privacy interests in an automobile, but the ready mobility of the automobile justifies a lesser degree of protection of those interests.
      • Basically, evidence in a car can be hidden or removed from the jurisdiction in ways that evidence in a house cannot.
      • This is known as the Caroll Doctrine, or the automobile exception.
    • The Court also found that there is a lower reasonable expectation of privacy in an automobile than in a house or office.
      • In addition to having large windows, automobiles are also pervasively regulated, and they get regularly inspected by the DMV.
      • But, is this a subjective or objective expectation? Certainly Carney had an expectation that what happened inside his motor home was private.
    • The Court found that the framers of the Constitution knew that ships and wagons were routinely searched for customs purposes, so they must have been ok with the idea of searching a vehicle without a warrant.
      • But, isn’t there a difference between searches for customs purposes and for normal law enforcement?
    • Carney unsuccessfully argued that his motor home was more like a house than a car, but the Court found that even though it had house-like features, the reasoning in Carroll still applied.
    • Carney unsuccessfully argued that the police could have immobilized the vehicle and gotten a search warrant, but the Court suggest that temporarily seizing a vehicle was more invasive than just searching it.
      • For suitcases and footlockers, the proper police procedure is to seize the item, and then get a search warrant before opening it.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that United States v. Chadwick (433 U.S. 1 (1977)) found that you couldn’t search a footlocker without a warrant, and that was just as inherently mobile as a motor home.
    • In addition, Carney was clearly using the motor home as a house, so it should be protected to the degree that a house is protected. It is called a motor home after all. The dissent suggests that the courts should look at what the principle function of the motor vehicle, and distinguish those that accommodate private human activity from those that serve a transportation function.
      • If the motor home was on blocks and hooked up to utilities in a trailer park, it would be more immobile and would be more like a house and probably would not qualify for the automobile exception. Mobility is the key feature.