California v. Carney

PETITIONER: California
RESPONDENT: Charles R. Carney
LOCATION: Parking Lot

DOCKET NO.: 83-859
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: Supreme Court of California

CITATION: 471 US 386 (1985)
ARGUED: Oct 30, 1984
DECIDED: May 13, 1985
GRANTED: Mar 19, 1984

Louis R. Hanoian - on behalf of petitioner
Thomas F. Homann - on behalf of respondent

Facts of the case

On May 31, 1979, Drug Enforcement Agency officers observed Charles Carney approach a youth who followed him into a motor home parked in a lot in downtown San Diego. Having previously received a tip that Carney was using the motor home to sell marijuana in exchange for sexual favors, the officers kept the motor home under surveillance while the two were inside. When the youth exited, the officers contacted him, and he confirmed that Carney gave him marijuana in exchange for receiving Carney’s sexual advances. The officers knocked on the door of the mobile home, identified themselves, and entered without a warrant or consent. They found marijuana, plastic bags, and a scale on the table. The officers arrested Carney for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.

Carney moved to suppress the evidence discovered in the warrantless search of the motor home, and the trial court denied the motion. Carney pleaded no contest, was convicted, and placed on probation. He appealed, and the California Court of Appeals upheld the conviction on the grounds that the motor home fell under the vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court of California reversed.


Does the warrantless search of a motor home violate the Fourth Amendment?

Media for California v. Carney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 30, 1984 in California v. Carney

Warren E. Burger:

You may proceed whenever you are ready.

Louis R. Hanoian:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

This case is here on the State of California's petition for writ of certiorari to the California Supreme Court.

After a brief review of the facts below, the petitioner will advance two contentions: that there is a need for bright line guidance in the area of search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment reasonableness standard.

Secondly, that this Court's decisions in Carrol v. United States, Chambers v. Maroney, and United States v. Ross provide bright line guidance in their use of inherent mobility as the underlying basis for the vehicle exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirements.

Had Your Honors been at Port and Clausa in San Diego on May 31st of 1979, you would have seen Charles R. Carney, a 50-some-year-old man, approach a Mexican youth in the area of downtown.

He talked with the young boy, and then he and the boy retreated to Mr. Carney's parked vehicle, which was in a parking lot on the corner of 4th and G Streets in downtown San Diego.

Mr. Carney and the boy entered the vehicle and stayed in the vehicle for approximately an hour and a quarter.

Agent Robert Williams of the Drug Enforcement Administration witnessed Mr. Carney's contact with the young man, and watched Mr. Carney and the boy go into the vehicle.

He noticed the license plate on the vehicle, and recalled that he had specific information regarding this vehicle.

Specifically, that there had been individuals who were providing young boys with marijuana or drugs in exchange for sex in the van; and that typically a situation would involve an individual and a young boy entering the van for a period of 10 minutes to 2 hours, and then they would exit after that time.

Warren E. Burger:

How long was this vehicle on the parking lot?

Louis R. Hanoian:

The record does not show how long it was there, Your Honor.

There was... Mr. Agent Williams witnessed the vehicle in the parking lot for a period of an hour and a quarter, and it had been there prior at various times.

It had been observed in the parking lot at that place, but there was no indication that it was at any time permanently attached to that parking lot.

John Paul Stevens:

Does the record tell us the character of the parking lot?

Was it public, where you had to pay so much an hour?

Or was it an empty lot?

Louis R. Hanoian:

The record doesn't specifically say that.

It is, however, Your Honor, a public parking lot right at the corner of 4th and G Streets in downtown San Diego.

It's privately owned, as I believe the record indicates.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

It wasn't a trailer parking lot?

Louis R. Hanoian:

No, it was not, Your Honor.

It was a parking lot which is typically populated with cars.

When people go to work in downtown, they will pull their car into the parking lot and then go off to work, come back after work, take their car, and drive home.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

And this mobile home was not a tractor-drawn, was it?

Louis R. Hanoian:

Pardon me, Your Honor?

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

This mobile home was not a tractor-drawn motor home?

Louis R. Hanoian:

No, it was not.

It was an integral vehicle with an engine and wheels and a back portion.