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California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386 (1985)


A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent, who had information that respondent’s mobile motor home was being used to exchange marihuana for sex, watched respondent approach a youth who accompanied respondent to the motor home, which was parked in a lot in downtown San Diego. The agent and other agents then kept the vehicle under surveillance, and stopped the youth after he left the vehicle. He told them that he had received marihuana in return for allowing respondent sexual contacts. At the agents’ request, the youth returned to the motor home and knocked on the door; respondent stepped out. Without a warrant or consent, one agent then entered the motor home and observed marihuana. A subsequent search of the motor home at the police station revealed additional marihuana, and respondent was charged with possession of marihuana for sale. After his motion to suppress the evidence discovered in the motor home was denied, respondent was convicted in California Superior Court on a plea of nolo contendere. The California Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court reversed, holding that the search of the motor home was unreasonable and that the motor vehicle exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment did not apply, because expectations of privacy in a motor home are more like those in a dwelling than in an automobile.

Held: The warrantless search of respondent’s motor home did not violate the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 471 U. S. 390-395.

(a) When a vehicle is being used on the highways or is capable of such use and is found stationary in a place not regularly used for residential purposes, the two justifications for the vehicle exception come into play. First, the vehicle is readily mobile, and, second, there is a reduced expectation of privacy stemming from the pervasive regulation of vehicles capable of traveling on highways. Here, while respondent’s vehicle possessed some attributes of a home, it clearly falls within the vehicle exception. To distinguish between respondent’s motor home and an ordinary sedan for purposes of the vehicle exception would require that the exception be applied depending on the size of the vehicle and the quality of its appointments. Moreover, to fail to apply the exception to vehicles such as a motor home would ignore the fact that a motor home lends itself easily to use as an instrument of illicit drug traffic or other illegal activity. Pp. 471 U. S. 390-394.

Page 471 U. S. 387

(b) The search in question was not unreasonable. It was one that a magistrate could have authorized if presented with the facts. The DEA agents, based on uncontradicted evidence that respondent was distributing a controlled substance from the vehicle, had abundant probable cause to enter and search the vehicle. Pp. 471 U. S. 394-395.

34 Cal. 3d 597, 668 P.2d 807, reversed and remanded.

BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, REHNQUIST, and O’CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 471 U. S. 395.