The so-called "automobile exception" to the warrant requirement of the fourth amendment would pose few conceptual difficulties but for the simplistic assumption on the part of many lawyers and judges that the "automobile exception" has something to do with automobiles. It is the burden of this article to establish that that is not necessarily so. There are many legitimate warrantless searches of automobiles that do not remotely involve the "automobile exception." Conversely, there are some legitimate warrantless searches of non-automobiles that do. Our only real problem is that of coming to grips with the word "automobile."
"Automobile" means one thing to teen-aged sons and to garage mechanics. It is a means of transportation. It connotes wheels and engines and flat tires and speeding tickets. "Automobile" in the phrase "automobile exception" means something very different to a constitutional lawyer. It connotes a legitimate warrantless search of a constitutionally protected area whenever (1) probable cause to believe that that area contains evidence of crime conjoins with (2) an exigency arising out of the mobility and imminent disappearance of that very constitutionally protected area itself.
Moylan, Charles E. Jr.
"The Automobile Exception: What it is and What it is Not -- A Rationale in Search of a Clearer Label,"
Mercer Law Review: Vol. 27:
4, Article 8.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.mercer.edu/jour_mlr/vol27/iss4/8