PA: The automobile exception does not apply in one’s own driveway

“We granted the petition for allowance of appeal filed by Daniel F. Loughnane to determine whether the Superior Court erred by holding that the federal automobile exception, adopted by this Court in Commonwealth v. Gary, 625 Pa. 183, 91 A.3d 102 (Pa. 2014), permitted the seizure of Loughnane’s truck while it was parked in his residential driveway. Commonwealth v. Loughnane, 2015 PA Super 245, 128 A.3d 806, 817 (Pa. Super. 2015). For the reasons that follow, we conclude that Gary does not operate to permit the warrantless seizure of a vehicle parked on a defendant’s residential driveway. We therefore vacate and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.” Commonwealth v. Loughnane, 2017 Pa. LEXIS 3180 (Nov. 22, 2017) (concurring; concurring and dissenting)

Subsequent to Coolidge, the United States Supreme Court decided California v. Carney. In Carney the Court explained why the automobile exception does apply when a vehicle is located in a public place, i.e., “in a place not regularly used for residential purposes.” Carney, 471 U.S. at 392-93 (emphasis added). According to the Court, “[w]hen a vehicle is being used on the highways, or if it is readily capable of such use,” then “the two justifications for the vehicle exception [(its ready mobility and the reduced expectation of privacy based on its use as a motor vehicle subject to a litany of regulations)] come into play.” Id. In other words, when a vehicle is being used on the public highways, as opposed sitting idle on a private driveway (as in Coolidge), “the overriding societal interests in effective law enforcement justify an immediate search before the vehicle and its occupants become unavailable.” Id.

Carney involved the question of whether “a fully mobile ‘motor home’ located in a public place” constituted a vehicle or a residence for Fourth Amendment purposes. Id. at 387. Because the motor home in question was readily mobile, was licensed to travel on public streets, and was parked in a public parking lot, the Court held that the automobile exception applied to permit the warrantless search of the motor home based on the presence of probable cause alone. Id. at 393. The Court concluded that “[a]pplying the vehicle exception in these circumstances allows the essential purposes served by the exception to be fulfilled, while assuring that the exception will acknowledge legitimate privacy interests.” Id. at 394; see also Cardwell v. Lewis, 417 U.S. 583, 593, 94 S. Ct. 2464, 41 L. Ed. 2d 325 (1974) (plurality) (finding the seizure of a vehicle from a public place lawful under the automobile exception, differentiating Coolidge based on the vehicle’s location); Ross, 456 U.S. at 807 n.9 (explaining the holding in Chambers as permitting police, with “probable cause to justify a warrantless seizure of an automobile on a public roadway” to “conduct an immediate search of the contents of that vehicle”) (emphasis added).

The high Court again reaffirmed the difference, for Fourth Amendment purposes, of the seizure of a vehicle from public versus private property for purposes of the automobile exception in Florida v. White. In White, an asset forfeiture case, the United States Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not require police to obtain a warrant prior to seizing an automobile from a public place if the police have probable cause to believe that the vehicle constitutes forfeitable contraband. White, 526 U.S. at 561. In reaching this conclusion, the Court differentiated the seizure of a vehicle from “public streets, parking lots, or other open places” from the seizure of a vehicle that occurs on “private premises,” as the former does not result in any invasion of an individual’s privacy. Id. at 566. Because the seizure in White occurred in the parking lot of a restaurant where White was employed and the police had probable cause to believe that the vehicle was forfeitable contraband, the high Court concluded that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement applied and “the Fourth Amendment did not require a warrant to seize respondent’s automobile in these circumstances.” Id.

A majority of the circuit courts of appeals that have considered the question have recognized that, pursuant to Coolidge and/or Carney, the automobile exception does not apply to vehicles parked in the defendant’s residential driveway. In United States v. Bradshaw, 490 F.2d 1097 (4th Cir. 1974), for example, the fourth circuit found unlawful, pursuant to Coolidge, the warrantless search of a vehicle parked on the defendant’s property, which police had probable cause to believe contained illegal moonshine. Id. at 1103. The court found that the automobile exception did not apply because there was no risk of loss of evidence and because of the enhanced expectation of privacy a defendant enjoys for a vehicle parked on his own property. Id.

The fifth, seventh, eighth and tenth circuits have also all held, based on the plain language of Carney, that the automobile exception does not apply to vehicles parked in a place used as a residence. See, e.g., United States v. Sinisterra, 77 F.3d 101, 105 (5th Cir. 1996) (recognizing, pursuant to Carney, that the automobile exception operates to permit warrantless searches/seizures of stationary vehicles only if parked in a place not regularly used for residential purposes, but finding that the automobile exception applied to a vehicle parked in a mall parking lot because it “was not related to anyone’s residence, it was open to the public and available for public use”); United States v. Beene, 818 F.3d 157, 164 (5th Cir. 2016) (same), cert. denied, 137 S. Ct. 113, 196 L. Ed. 2d 91 (2016); United States v. Markling, 7 F.3d 1309, 1319 (7th Cir. 1993) (same, for a vehicle parked in a motel parking lot); United States v. Holleman, 743 F.3d 1152, 1158 (8th Cir. 2014) (same); United States v. Ludwig, 10 F.3d 1523, 1529 (10th Cir. 1993) (same).

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