The inspection by police and other government agents of the interiors of motor vehicles to look for evidence of unlawful activity.
The framers of the Fourth Amendment were concerned about protecting people from unlawful government searches and seizures of their “houses” and “effects” when they drafted the amendment in the late eighteenth century. When the automobile became prominent in U.S. society more than a century later, the Supreme Court had to decide how the words and principles of the Fourth Amendment should be applied to searches of cars and other motor vehicles.
Beginning with its decision in Carroll v. United States
Searches of effects, such as containers, generally are subject to the same warrant requirement that applies to house searches. The Court was thus confronted with the question of whether to require the police to obtain a warrant before searching a container located in an automobile. In a series of cases culminating in California v. Acevedo
The Court has also authorized police searches of automobiles in situations in which there was no probable cause that there was criminal evidence within the automobile. After lawfully arresting the occupant of a vehicle, the police may search the passenger area of that vehicle, including the glove compartment or items within the passenger area. According to the Court’s decision in New York v. Belton,
Bloom, Robert M. Searches, Seizures, and Warrants. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 2003. Dash, Samuel. The Intruders: Unreasonable Searches and Seizures from King John to John Ashcroft. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2004. Hall, John Wesley. Search and Seizure. 3d ed. Charlottesville, Va.: LEXIS Law Publishing, 2000. Quick, Bruce D. Law of Arrest, Search, and Seizure: An Examination of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution. Rev. ed. Bismarck, N.D.: Attorney General’s Office, Criminal Justice Training and Statistics Division, 1987. Regini, Lisa A. “The Motor Vehicle Exception: When and Where to Search.” FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin 68, no. 7 (July, 1999): 26-32. Savage, David G. “Privacy Rights Pulled Over: Cops Get More Power to Search Personal Effects in Vehicles.” American Bar Association Journal 85 (June, 1999): 42-44. Stephens, Otis H., and Richard A. Glenn. Unreasonable Searches and Seizures: Rights and Liberties Under the Law. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-Clio, 2004.
California v. Acevedo
Carroll v. United States
Michigan v. Long
New York v. Belton
Privacy, right to
Ross, United States v.
Search warrant requirement