We previously discussed how complex the search and seizure laws are in the U.S. One particular area of confusion for most people is the fact that while police need a warrant to search a home, they do not need one to search a vehicle. But what about vehicles parked on someone’s driveway? As it turns out, this issue is so complex the Supreme Court even just issued a new ruling on it. Here’s what Oceanside criminal lawyers believe you should know about vehicle search and seizure laws.
In most cases, the police simply need probable cause to search a vehicle. Probable cause is defined as a situation where a circumstances would lead a reasonable person to believe there is evidence of a crime. For example, if you have been pulled over and show signs of intoxication from cocaine, such as talking too fast, sniffing frequently and having dilated pupils, an officer may use that as grounds for probable cause to search your car for cocaine. Of course, what actually constitutes probable cause in a given situation is up for debate and your Oceanside criminal lawyer may be able to argue that what an office claims was probable cause was anything but.
Exceptions That Require a Warrant
Fans of Breaking Bad are probably familiar with Walter White’s claim that a motor home cannot be searched without a warrant as long as it is used as a private domicile. But while Walter was a great chemist, he was no lawyer -as defense attorneys in Oceanside will attest to. In fact, the Supreme Court made the exact opposite ruling on the subject in a 1985 case, arguing that because RVs can be moved so easily, requiring police to obtain a warrant was impractical. That being said, there is a legal grey area when it comes to fifth wheel or double wide trailers that cannot be easily moved. For people living in trailer parks where moving the trailer is difficult, if not impossible, to do in a short period of time, search warrants are still required for the most part.
And now the Supreme Court has ruled that vehicles parked in driveways, garages and carports also require search warrants before police can look around inside of them. The ruling states that a person’s home extends the protections of the 4th Amendment to a vehicle or other property located within the confines of a private driveway, carport or garage.
Plain Sight Still Applies
In the case that inspired the Supreme Court decision, the police looked under a tarp on a suspect’s property to discover a stolen motorcycle. While this behavior would now be considered illegal thanks to the court’s decisions, it is important to know that the plain sight doctrine still applies to garages, carports and driveways. So, for example, if a truck parked in a driveway visible from the street has a cache of rocket launchers and other illegal weapons, the fact that these were in plain sight means the police could arrest the truck owner and search the vehicle without a warrant.
This case specifically dealt with the intersection of the automobile exception, which allows searches based on probable cause and searches of a home, which requires a warrant. The Supreme Court decided the curettage of a home, the area surrounding the home, has as much protection as the house itself. For example, even before this decision, if the motorcycle had been parked inside the house, it would have required a warrant to enter the house and search it.
If you believe police illegally searched your home or vehicle, an Oceanside criminal defense attorney can help you fight to have the charges dropped or evidence withheld. Please call (760) 643-4050 to schedule a free initial consultation with Peter M. Liss.
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