Boston — Is a man's home his castle? Not if it is a motor home! That is what the US Supreme Court ruled on Monday. By a 6-to-3 vote, the justices said that police probing a suspected crime don't need a warrant to search a motor home.
Their reasoning was that a motor home is more like a car than a dwelling.
Writing for the court, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said there is a reduced expectation of privacy because such a house-vehicle is capable of traveling on the open road.
``These reduced expectations of privacy derive not from the fact that the area to be searched is in plain view, but from the pervasive regulation of vehicles capable of traveling on the public highways,'' Justice Burger explained. ``The public is fully aware that it is accorded less privacy in its automobiles because of this compelling government need for regulation.''
The Constitution's Fourth Amendment requires police to get a court warrant before conducting a search. But the court has made an exception for autos.
In Monday's ruling, the court was specific in determining that a motor home, even if it is stationary, is still readily mobile, and police should have greater latitude to inspect it.
The case stemmed from the arrest of a male suspect who prosecutors said was exchanging marijuana with young boys in downtown San Diego. He was apprehended after police, without a warrant, searched his mobile home.
The suspect didn't deny the charge of possessing marijuana for sale, and was placed on three years' probation.
The California Supreme Court, however, held that the warrantless search violated the defendant's constitutional rights against unreasonable police conduct. The primary purpose of a motor home, that appellate court ruled, is as a residence and not as transportation.
The state court also explained that mobile-home owners had the same reasonable expectation of complete privacy as other homeowners.
Six Supreme Court justices agreed, but Justices John Paul Stevens, William J. Brennan, and Thurgood Marshall dissented.
But Burger persisted that a motor home ``is obviously readily mobile by the turn of a switch key.'' Mr. Burger further explained that ``the overriding societal interests in effective law enforcement justify an immediate search before a vehicle and its occupants become unavailable.''
In another decision released Monday, the high court ruled unanimously (8 to 0, with Associate Justice Lewis F. Powell not voting) that the government may deport aliens who have illegally stayed in the United States more than seven years. This would even include hardship cases.
This ruling opens the way for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to deport a Mexican couple who has lived in Nebraska since 1974.
The US attorney general, who oversees the INS, has the power to suspend deportation for hardship reasons for aliens who have resided in the US at least seven years. In this case, however, the Justice Department decided not to use such discretionary authority.
And Associate Justice Byron R. White, writing for the court, said such action was proper in this case.
The couple in question has fought deportation proceedings in the courts for almost a decade. In the early '70s, they returned to Mexico under threat of deportation. But they were later smuggled across the California border.
In 1983, the Eighth US Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case and ordered the INS to reconsider deportation.
In reinstating the deportation order, Justice White said that ``the attorney general and the INS confront an onerous task even without the addition of judicially augmented incentives to take meritless appeals . . . .'' He added that ``it is not for the judiciary to usurp Congress's grant of authority to the attorney general.''