Is It Legal to Search a Vehicle Without a Warrant ?

Pursuant to article I, section 28, subdivision (d), of the California Constitution, relevant evidence such as cocaine, is admissible except as provided by statute or prohibited by the United States Constitution. (People v. Woods (1999) 21 Cal. 4th 668, 692 [88 Cal. Rptr. 2d 88, 981 P.2d 1019]; People v. Nonnette, supra, 221 Cal. App. 3d at p. 668.) Defendant mistakenly contends the cocaine was seized from his bicycle in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment protects the "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures." (U.S. Const., Amend. IV.) This right is preserved by a requirement that searches be conducted pursuant to a warrant. However, there are exceptions to this warrant requirement. One such exception is for vehicles used on a public thoroughfare or readily capable of such use. If a vehicle is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment permits the search of the vehicle. This exception was first recognized in Carroll v. United States (1925) 267 U.S. 132 [45 S. Ct. 280, 69 L. Ed. 543, 39 A.L.R. 790]. There, while recognizing that the privacy interests in an automobile are constitutionally protected, the court found an automobile's ready mobility justified a lesser degree of protection of those interests. (Id. at p. 153 [45 S. Ct. at p. 285].) Since Carroll the court has stated that the reasons for the vehicle exception are twofold. "Besides the element of mobility, less rigorous warrant requirements govern because the expectation of privacy with respect to one's automobile is significantly less than that relating to one's home or office." (South Dakota v. Opperman (1976) 428 U.S. 364, 367 [96 S. Ct. 3092, 3096, 49 L. Ed. 2d 1000, 1004].) In California v. Carney (1985) 471 U.S. 386 [105 S. Ct. 2066, 85 L. Ed. 2d 406], the court applied the exception to a motor home that was capable of providing transportation. In so finding, the court stated, "In short, the pervasive schemes of regulation, which necessarily lead to reduced expectations of privacy, and the exigencies attendant to ready mobility justify searches without prior recourse to the authority of a magistrate so long as the overriding standard of probable cause is met. When a vehicle is being used on the highways, or if it is readily capable of such use and is found stationary in a place not regularly used for residential purposes temporary or otherwise the two justifications for the vehicle exception come into play." (Id. at pp. 392-393 [105 S. Ct. at p. 2070].)