The Motor Vehicle Exception Rule

The Motor Vehicle Exception Rule

This is a discussion on The Motor Vehicle Exception Rule within the The Second Amendment & Gun Legislation Discussion forums, part of the Related Topics category; Preface: I am posting this because of the number of queries and questions I've seen in regard to motor homes and RVs in general, which ...

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Thread: The Motor Vehicle Exception Rule

  1. #1
    VIP Member Array Janq's Avatar
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    The Motor Vehicle Exception Rule

    I am posting this because of the number of queries and questions I've seen in regard to motor homes and RVs in general, which them self can be largely anything, as related to law enforcement including search and seizure toward firearms.
    This is an area of law that is somewhat obscure if not misunderstood by average citizens.
    Motor homes and generic term RV motor vehicles are not exempt from the Motor Vehicle Exception rule per a decision some time ago at the US Supreme Court.
    Treat and think of your motorhome/RV as you would your Ford Taurus as they are effectively one in the same, and yes some people do treat as and live within their Ford Taurus as a primary residence.


    As originally featured within an FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin:

    The motor vehicle exception

    The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin
    August, 2005
    by Edward Hendrie

    There is a presumption that a search conducted under the authority of a search warrant is reasonable. (1) Conversely, a search conducted without a search warrant is presumed unreasonable. (2) The presumption of unreasonableness can be rebutted through an applicable exception to the search warrant requirement. One of those exceptions is known as the motor vehicle exception. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if an officer has probable cause to believe that evidence or contraband is located in a motor vehicle, he may search the area of the vehicle he reasonably believes contains that evidence without a search warrant to the same degree as if he had a warrant. (3) The scope of the search is limited only by what the officer has probable cause to search for and may encompass the entire vehicle, including the trunk. The motor vehicle exception is based upon the reduced expectation of privacy that citizens have in their motor vehicles because of the pervasive regulation to which they are subjected and the fact that the mobility of vehicles present an inherent exigency. (4)

    In addition to the motor vehicle exception, there are other exceptions to the search warrant requirement that allow an officer to search all or part of a motor vehicle. Those exceptions allow officers to 1) search the passenger compartment (but not the trunk) of a suspect's vehicle incident to his arrest; (5) 2) frisk the passenger compartment (but not the trunk) of an automobile for weapons upon reasonable suspicion that a weapon may be there; (6) 3) inventory an impounded vehicle, including items in the trunk, pursuant to standardized agency regulations; (7) or 4) search a motor vehicle upon the consent of the person who has the actual or apparent authority and control over that vehicle. (8) While these listed exceptions can be applied to motor vehicles, they are not limited in their application to motor vehicles, as is the motor vehicle exception.


    Probable Cause

    To search under the motor vehicle exception, an officer must have probable cause. The Supreme Court has stated that "probable cause is a fluid concept--turning on the assessment of probabilities in particular factual contexts--not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules." (9) Probable cause is not a "one size fits all" standard. In fact, probable cause is a range that occupies a zone (10) that is assessed under the totality of the circumstances. (11)

    The seminal motor vehicle exception case is Carroll v. United States. (12) The Carroll decision illustrates just how low the probable cause standard is when conducting a warrantless search under the motor vehicle exception. In Carroll, federal prohibition agents acting undercover had negotiated for the purchase of illegal whiskey in Grand Rapids from the two defendants, Kiro and Carroll. The sale was never consummated. Approximately 1 week later, the agents saw Kiro and Carroll traveling toward Detroit in the same car they used to drive to the undercover negotiations. More than 2 months later, the agents once again saw the defendants driving in the same automobile from the Detroit area toward Grand Rapids. The agents knew that at the time, the Detroit area was an active center for bringing illegal liquor into the United States. Believing that Kiro and Carroll were smuggling a load of illegal liquor from Detroit to Grand Rapids, the agents stopped the vehicle. The agents conducted a warrantless search of the vehicle and found illegal liquor hidden beneath the upholstery of the seats. The U.S. Supreme Court approved of the warrantless motor vehicle search in Carroll because the agents had probable cause.


    One of the often-overlooked but rather significant findings by the U.S. Supreme Court in Carroll was that the probable cause in that case was clear. The U.S. Supreme Court stated:

    [I]t is clear the officers here had justification for the search and
    seizure. This is to say that the facts and circumstances within their
    knowledge and of which they had reasonably trust-worthy information
    were sufficient in themselves to warrant a man of reasonable caution
    in the belief that intoxicating liquor was being transported in the
    automobile which they stopped and searched. (13)

    In Chambers v. Maroney, (14) a service station was robbed by two armed men. At about the time of the robbery, two teenagers noticed a blue station wagon circling the block in the vicinity of the gas station and later speed away with four people inside, one of whom was wearing a green sweater. The station attendant recounted that one of the robbers was wearing a green sweater and the other was wearing a trench coat. A description of the car and robbers was broadcast over the police radio. Within an hour, a light blue compact station wagon carrying four men was stopped by the police approximately 2 miles from the gas station. One of the passengers was wearing a green sweater, and there was a trench coat in the car. The occupants of the car were arrested. The money, guns, and other incriminating evidence from the robbery were found inside the car during a later warrantless vehicle search conducted at the station. The U.S. Supreme Court found that there was probable cause to arrest the suspects and probable cause to search the vehicle. The Court approved of the later vehicle search under the motor vehicle exception.

    The full detail can be found at; The motor vehicle exception | FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin,The | Find Articles at BNET

    - Janq
    "Killers who are not deterred by laws against murder are not going to be deterred by laws against guns. " - Robert A. Levy

    "A license to carry a concealed weapon does not make you a free-lance policeman." - Florida Div. of Licensing

  2. #2
    VIP Member Array matiki's Avatar
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    Dec 2007
    Thanks Janq. You've provided another great asset to the forum.
    "Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must." - The Duke of Wellington

  3. #3
    VIP Member Array farronwolf's Avatar
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    Aug 2006
    So if I want to carry illegals in my motor home I just need to put them in the cargo spaces below. That would be similar to the trunk of an auto, since that is where the extra gear and spare tire is located. I think I could get about 12-16 of them in there if stacked properly.

    Last year before we headed up through IL and WI, I made sure that I was compliant with the laws regarding transport and storage of firearms. They were within relatively quick reach with the magazines ready to be placed back in the gun. Didn't like it one bit for the 10 days or so we were in those states, but hey you do what you got to do.
    Just remember that shot placement is much more important with what you carry than how big a bang you get with each trigger pull.
    Texas CHL Instructor
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