search and seizure - from the courts -

Outer Bamnks diving on the Great Escape Southern California Live-Aboard Dive Boat

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Posted by jlyle on January 12, 2005 at 15:23:24:

FindLaw: "Not only is the warrant requirement inapplicable to brief stops of vessels, but also none of the safeguards applicable to stops of automobiles on less than probable cause are necessary predicates to stops of vessels."

"Vehicular Searches .--In the early days of the automobile the Court created an exception for searches of vehicles, holding in Carroll v. United States 55 that vehicles may be searched without warrants if the officer undertaking the search has probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband. The Court explained that the mobility of vehicles would allow them to be quickly moved from the jurisdiction if time were taken to obtain a warrant. 56

Initially the Court limited Carroll's reach, holding impermissible the warrantless seizure of a parked automobile merely because it is movable, and indicating that vehicles may be stopped only while moving or reasonably contemporaneously with movement. 57 Also, the Court ruled that the search must be reasonably contemporaneous with the stop, so that it was not permissible to remove the vehicle to the stationhouse for a warrantless search at the convenience of the police. 58

The Court next developed a reduced privacy rationale to supplement the mobility rationale, explaining that ''the configuration, use, and regulation of automobiles often may dilute the reasonable expectation of privacy that exists with respect to differently situated property.'' 59 '''One has a lesser expectation of privacy in a motor vehicle because its function is transportation and it seldom serves as one's residence or as the repository of personal effects. . . . It travels public thoroughfares where both its occupants and its contents are in plain view.''' 60 While motor homes do serve as residences and as repositories for personal effects, and while their contents are often shielded from public view, the Court extended the automobile exception to them as well, holding that there is a diminished expectation of privacy in a mobile home parked in a parking lot and licensed for vehicular travel, hence ''readily mobile.'' 61

The reduced expectancy concept has broadened police powers to conduct automobile searches without warrants, but they still must have probable cause to search a vehicle 62 and they may not make random stops of vehicles on the roads, but instead must base stops of individual vehicles on probable cause or some ''articulable and reasonable suspicion'' Supp.5 of traffic or safety violation or some other criminal activity. Supp.6 By contrast, fixed-checkpoint stops in the absence of any individualized suspicion have been upheld. 64 Once police have validly stopped a vehicle, they may also, based on articulable facts warranting a reasonable belief that weapons may be present, conduct a Terry-type protective search of those portions of the passenger compartment in which a weapon could be placed or hidden. 65 And, in the absence of such reasonable suspicion as to weapons, police may seize contraband and suspicious items ''in plain view'' inside the passenger compartment. 66

Once police have probable cause to believe there is contraband in a vehicle, they may remove it from the scene to the stationhouse in order to conduct a search, without thereby being required to obtain a warrant. ''[T]he justification to conduct such a warrantless search does not vanish once the car has been immobilized; nor does it depend upon a reviewing court's assessment of the likelihood in each particular case that the car would have been driven away, or that its contents would have been tampered with, during the period required for the police to obtain a warrant.'' 67 The Justices were evenly divided, however, on the propriety of warrantless seizure of an arrestee's automobile from a public parking lot several hours after his arrest, its transportation to a police impoundment lot, and the taking of tire casts and exterior paint scrapings. 68 Because of the lessened expectation of privacy, inventory searches of impounded automobiles are justifiable in order to protect public safety and the owner's property, and any evidence of criminal activity discovered in the course of the inventories is admissible in court. 69

It is not lawful for the police in undertaking a warrantless search of an automobile to extend the search to the passengers therein. 70 But because passengers in an automobile have no reasonable expectation of privacy in the interior area of the car, a warrantless search of the glove compartment and the spaces under the seats, which turned up evidence implicating the passengers, invaded no Fourth Amendment interest of the passengers. 71 Luggage and other closed containers found in automobiles may also be subjected to warrantless searches based on probable cause, the same rule now applying whether the police have probable cause to search only the containers 72 or whether they have probable cause to search the automobile for something capable of being held in the container. 73

Vessel Searches .--Not only is the warrant requirement inapplicable to brief stops of vessels, but also none of the safeguards applicable to stops of automobiles on less than probable cause are necessary predicates to stops of vessels. In United States v. Villamonte-Marquez, 74 the Court upheld a random stop and boarding of a vessel by customs agents, lacking any suspicion of wrongdoing, for purpose of inspecting documentation. The boarding was authorized by statute derived from an act of the First Congress, 75 and hence had ''an impressive historical pedigree'' carrying with it a presumption of constitutionality. Moreover, ''important factual differences between vessels located in waters offering ready access to the open sea and automobiles on principal thoroughfares in the border area'' justify application of a less restrictive rule for vessel searches. The reason why random stops of vehicles have been held impermissible under the Fourth Amendment, the Court explained, is that stops at fixed checkpoints or roadblocks are both feasible and less subject to abuse of discretion by authorities. ''But no reasonable claim can be made that permanent checkpoints would be practical on waters such as these where vessels can move in any direction at any time and need not follow established 'avenues' as automobiles must do.'' 76 Because there is a ''substantial'' governmental interest in enforcing documentation laws, ''especially in waters where the need to deter or apprehend smugglers is great,'' the Court found the ''limited'' but not ''minimal'' intrusion occasioned by boarding for documentation inspection to be reasonable. 77 Dis senting Justice Brennan argued that the Court for the first time was approving ''a completely random seizure and detention of persons and an entry onto private, noncommercial premises by police officers, without any limitations whatever on the officers' discretion or any safeguards against abuse.'' 78 "

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