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Motor Vehicle Exception

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 74 Issue: 8 Dated: August 2005 Pages: 22-32
Edward Hendrie J.D.
Date Published
August 2005
11 pages
This article reviews the motor vehicle exception to the search warrant requirement.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that if an officer has probable cause to believe that evidence or contraband is present in a motor vehicle, the officer may search without a warrant the areas of the car reasonably believed to hold the evidence. The exception to a search warrant in these cases is based on the reduced expectation of privacy that citizens have when traveling in their motor vehicles and on the exigency presented by the mobility of motor vehicles. The concept of probable cause is reviewed, including an examination of two pivotal court cases that helped establish the probable cause standard. Court decisions that defined the scope of searches are reviewed, as are cases that involved the discovery of personal-use amount of drugs and the odor of marijuana as probable cause to search a motor vehicle. Cases are also presented that deal with the definition of motor vehicle for purposes of search laws, including a U.S. Supreme Court case involving a warrantless search of a motor home parked in a public parking lot. Reasonable searches of motor vehicles without a warrant also include a search of any containers in the vehicle that could contain evidence or contraband; the court cases establishing the legitimacy of container searches are reviewed. Endnotes