Cars, Cops, and Crooks: A Reexamination of Belton and Carroll with an Eye Toward Restoring Fourth Amendment Privacy Protection to Automobiles
30 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2009
Date Written: 2006
Under the Supreme Court’s decision in Carroll v. United States law enforcement officers may conduct warrantless searches of automobiles, including closed containers within, whenever there is probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband or evidence. Moreover, pursuant to New York v. Belton, police may conduct a warrantless search of the “passenger area” of the vehicle whenever a recent occupant of the vehicle is arrested, regardless of whether or not there is probable cause to believe that the car contains any contraband or evidence. These cases compromise the privacy protections offered by the Fourth Amendment and create the potential for abusive police practices. To restore Fourth Amendments privacy interests, without compromising legitimate law enforcement interests, Professor Chase suggests abolishing the Belton rule, in favor of the case-by-case approach of Chimel v. California. She also proposes refining the Carroll rule to permit, absent exigent circumstances, a brief warrantless seizure of an automobile based on probable cause so that the police may obtain a warrant to search the vehicle. Professor Chase supports her position with an examination of each case, including the questions left open by Carroll and Benton and how courts have interpreted and applied these cases, and with a discussion of how technological and legal changes since these cases have made immediate warrantless searches less necessary than they were in the past.
Keywords: Carroll v. U.S., New York v. Belton, warrantless searches, search and seizure, automobilies, privacy, Fourth Amendment, Chimel v. California
JEL Classification: k14, k42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation