California v. Carney

California v. Carney

United States Supreme Court
471 U.S. 386 (1985)

ISSUE: Is a warrantless search of a fully-mobile motor home reasonable under the vehicle exception to the 4th Amdt. warrant requirement if the officers have PC to believe that the F&I of crime will be found inside?
  • Officers surveilled a motor home parked in a lot and noticed young people going into the motor home and the curtains be drawn while inside
  • Officers stopped one youth who left the motor home and she said that she received marijuana in exchange for sexual contacts
  • Officers entered the motor home without a warrant or consent and found marijuana inside
  • Charged with possession of marijuana for sale
  • Pleaded nolo contendere
  • Reasons for vehicle exception: (1) Mobility of automobiles, and (2) lessened expectation of privacy because of the extensive regulation of automobiles
  • Motor home falls within exception: Because the motor home is mobile and readily movable, theCarroll vehicle exception to the warrant requirement extends to a warrantless search of a motor home
    • Regardless of the potential for use as living quarters, motor homes are primarily mobile
  • Non-mobile motor home different: If the motor home was not mobile, factors such as its location, whether the vehicle is readily mobile (e.g., up on blocks), whether the vehicle is licensed, whether it's connected to utilities, and whether it has convenient access to a public road
  • Society is probably prepared to recognize an expectation of privacy in a motor home that is parked away from the public highway
  • Officers should have made an arrest and then done a search incident to arrest
  • Motor homes that are used for a wide range of human activities are fundamentally different than vehicles that serve only for transportation


  • Beware, law students! Professors love to push this case to its theoretical limits. In order to attack the justification for the Vehicle Doctrine, one needs to attack either the lessened expectation of privacy due to pervasive regulation (not going to happen -- this is the same for every vehicle) or the inherent mobility of vehicles. The latter justification is where the proverbial money is. As my professor said, if the vehicle has no tires, is up on cinder blocks, has no license plate, and has tomatoes growing out of where the engine should be, you have lost your "inherent mobility" prong. However, I assume one needs extreme facts like those just listed in order to fully attack the Vehicle Doctrine; a flat tire is just not going to do it.


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