In another case, the police searched an automobile that was inoperable due to "a thrown rod in the
motor." The court explained that automobiles are still entitled to Fourth Amendment protection; the
exception simply dispenses with the warrant requirement under certain conditions. Here, the vehicle in
question was not only not moving but was incapable in its present condition of being self-propelled."
U.S. v. Garlich, 35 CMR 334 (CMA, 1965). The issue is what facts were known to the police at the time
of the search.
In U.S. v. Ross, 72 L.Ed.2d 572 (1982), an informant told the police that a person was selling drugs
out of the trunk of his car parked on a public street. The police went to the scene and located the car
matching the description which they had been given. They circled the block (to avoid alerting anyone in
the area), and returned as the vehicle was leaving. They then pulled alongside of it, and subsequently
apprehended the driver (who had been determined to match the description furnished by the
informant). The car was subsequently searched (including the interior passenger compartment and
trunk). In the trunk, they found a brown paper bag that contained heroin. Also, ,200 in cash was
discovered in a zipped leather pouch (also in the trunk). The Supreme Court noted the "impracticability
of securing a warrant in cases involving the transportation of contraband goods...Given the nature of an
automobile in transit, the Court recognized that an immediate intrusion is necessary if police officers are
to secure the illicit substance."
The Supreme Court explained that this is a probable cause search. Such a search "generally
extends to the entire area in which the object of the search may be found...The scope of a warrantless
search of an automobile thus is not defined by the nature of the container in which the contraband is
secreted. Rather, it is defined by the object of the search and the places in which there is probable
cause to believe that it may be found." In other words, this is treated the same as other probable cause
searches. Although the exception eliminates the need for a warrant or authorization, the scope of the
search is the same as it is with any probable cause search: "If probable cause justifies the search of a
lawfully stopped vehicle, it justifies the search of every part of the vehicle and its contents that may
conceal the object of the search." Stated differently, if there is probable cause to believe that the
vehicle contains contraband, the search may extend to any area of the vehicle that may hold the
contraband; i.e., the trunk, glove compartment, etc., U.S. v. Switzer, 17 MJ 540 (ACMR, 1983).
Suppose, for example, you have probable cause to believe the vehicle contains a stolen 19" color
television set. You may search in the vehicle any area where you reasonably may expect to find what
you are looking for. This would obviously include the trunk. It would not, however, warrant your taking
off the hubcaps to look inside of them. Obviously, you would not reasonably expect to find the object