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Author Topic: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?  (Read 1170 times)

vito55

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Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« on: September 07, 2017, 03:32:25 PM »
I know that law enforcement officials need a warrant to enter and search your home, but the rules are a lot less stringent for searching of your car or other vehicle. I'm wondering about an RV, whether it be a motorhome, travel trailer or pop up. If you are stopped for a traffic violation, I am assuming that without a specific reason unrelated to the traffic offense alleged, the officer would need a valid warrant to enter and search the RV. Although I literally have nothing to hide in my RV, I would not voluntarily consent to a search since it can not possibly be in my interest to allow a police officer to do so, but I still wonder if he/she could legally do so without a warrant by considering the RV a "vehicle".
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John From Detroit

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2017, 04:51:52 PM »
That is a good question and the answer may well depend on the officer.

Now one "interpretation" of the law I have heard. is that the police can only search the area accessible to the driver FROM THE DRIVER's SEAT.... Or by extension passengers from their seat(s).

BUT... the key word is interpretation. other places may interpret differently.

PLUS. Once they arrest you.... A full inventory prior to impound is needed.
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Gary RV_Wizard

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2017, 08:26:11 PM »
Very much a situational thing, I'm afraid, and the LEO's interpretation is also a major factor.

Parked in a campsite with engine off and jacks down, it's clearly a "home", in the same sense that a hotel room or apartment is, even if for just one night. The laws & courts are pretty clear on that. And when a motorhome is driving down the highway, it's definitely a motor vehicle, at least up to the driver cab area (as John noted). In between those extremes, lot's of gray area.

Trailers are even foggier, but in general an officer would need a darn good "probable cause" to go inside without a warrant, since it is not the vehicle you are driving and thus not generally subject to even casual perusal without a warrant. Even if you are stopped on the roadside or in a rest area. But again, lots of room for interpretation based on the conditions and events in each situation.

CAVEAT: I'm not a lawyer and have no expertise. I've read reports of various encounters between RVers and LEO and the above are my conclusions.
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TonyDtorch

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2017, 09:30:13 PM »
Technically,  Your RV is being used on the roads as a vehicle,    and it's registered as a "Vehicle".....so it's probably going to be viewed by police as a "Vehicle".

  But if it's being used as your home,   hang a sign in the front windshild that says  "Our Home" ... I guess now it should be legal.   :)   

 
« Last Edit: September 07, 2017, 09:42:37 PM by TonyDtorch »

Tangled Hair

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2017, 09:37:56 PM »
My understanding is also as Tony states, "Your RV is legally registered as a "Vehicle" and would be treated as such when you are pulled off the road.
 


04fxsts

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #5 on: September 08, 2017, 05:18:03 AM »
   I don't remember the name of the case right now but about three years ago the USSC ruled a routine traffic stop does not give the officer the right to detain you for a K-9 to be brought to the scene to search.  This assumes there is not some obvious illegal conduct that gives the officer a reason to search. 
   If an officer has obvious evidence, open container, bag of pot or handgun on the dash he will have reason to search and will do so.  However if for some reason an officer just wants to go on a "fishing expedition"  they will ask your permission.  If you say "no" that will be the end of it because if they have no explainable reason to search any illegal thing they find will be in-admissible in court.  If you say "yes" then they may do as they please and you have no recourse.  Jim.

wackymac

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #6 on: September 08, 2017, 06:26:38 AM »
Several years ago we were coming back in to the US from Canada and were stopped at the border.  The officer asked if he could come in and look around.  I said"yes" so he opens the door, walks up the steps and immediately turns to his left and opens the overhead cabinet above the dinette table.  A frying pan come falling out and crashes on the table.  He closed the cabinet door, turns around, says "thank you" and leaves.
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Gary RV_Wizard

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2017, 10:30:07 AM »
Even a "vehicle" isn't searchable unless you give permission or the officer obtains a warrant.  The gray areas and "home" vs "vehicle" come into play concerning laws and regs that treat those two differently, e.g. access to hand guns, possession of certain drugs, open alcohol, etc. The courts have pretty consistently ruled that the living portion of an RV is a "home" for those purposes, even on the highway. That's where wording like "accessible from the driver seat" comes into play. 

For example, you can have open alcohol containers in cabinets or fridge, and passengers behind the cab area of a motorhome can be actively imbibing. They are considered to be "At home". The driver [and probably the front seat passenger as well] do not have that liberty, because they are in the vehicle part. A gray area might occur if a motorhome has a front kitchen and the fridge is within reasonable reach of the front seat occupants. And that's just one simple example of how complex the situation can be.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 10:31:43 AM by Gary RV_Wizard »
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TonyDtorch

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2017, 12:00:31 PM »
My shotgun has a trigger lock and it's in the bedroom. That's how I do it, but that may or may not be legal in the opinion of the cop.   Both the gun laws, and a motorhome laws are ambiguous,    and as some old southern cops like to say  "I am the law".   
I've argued with cops before, and I've had cops have tell me....You may beat the rap.... But you won't beat the ride.



As for having a gun,   Remember..  in an emergency situation where every second counts... the police are only minutes away. 

You almost never hear of drug crazed knife wielding homeless people living around state and federal campgrounds anymore.... 8)
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 04:05:29 PM by TonyDtorch »

Kevin Means

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2017, 01:57:26 PM »
My wife (Cyndi) is a Deputy District Attorney, and she teaches Fourth Amendment issues (Search & Siezure) as part of her job. She even uses RV examples in her class. While I have sat through the training several times, and I'm pretty sure I know how she would answer this question, I'll let her answer it when she gets home tonight.

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SargeW

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2017, 01:58:01 PM »
Vehicle searches the least amount of PC (probably cause) of any location due to it's mobility.  No warrant is required depending on what the PC is.  A simple traffic stop for a red light violation can be a full blown vehicle search if the PC is developed. 

Gary is right about being set up in an RV park though. Reasonable expectation of privacy exists, and is not dismissed just because the location has wheels.  Different states vary on the particulars, but in general if your vehicle is moving down the highway, your expectation of privacy is weak.

And in a vehicle there is something known as "wing span" search. An officer may visually search anyplace that is in immediate reach of the driver for officer safety.  Anything past that is up to the courts if it is reasonable or not.
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Gary RV_Wizard

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2017, 03:41:11 PM »
It's the "probable cause" that makes the whole question one of interpretation.  SargeW's characterization of weak vs strong expectation of privacy is a good one, but that leaves a wide area of discretion. Heck, a law office can break down the front door of your castle if there is "probable cause", but the nature of probable cause is situational by definition. The officer has to make a snap judgment at the scene, while the courts discuss it at leisure later.

Will be very interested in what Kevin's wife has to say about it.
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marcortez

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #12 on: September 08, 2017, 04:10:15 PM »
As a retired LE officer from California......the LAST thing an officer wants to do is search an RV'ers unit for blowing a stop sign or any other minor traffic infraction.
If you're in a motorhome, you will have to open the exit doors to converse with that officer. Do so....the officer might or might not ask you to exit the MH. Willingly comply to this request.
On a routine traffic stop, there is ZERO probable cause to go further than what is at hand regarding the stop.

If empty whiskey bottles roll out, 9mm spent or live pistol rounds flip down the steps, pistol butts sticking out under the seat, blood soaked rags litter the floor, body parts stuffed into seat back pockets or cries of "help me" are heard from the rear area, the officer has ZERO need to go beyond asking for the normal docs.

Can he/she do it anyway?......yes sure, but anything found that is illegal and would subject you to immediate arrest would be found inadmissible in a court of law. No probable cause right?

There are thousands of road lawyers who revel in "I know my rights" banter with the police. Most often lose, one way or another, on the spot.
Do you have to be polite and nice?....no of course not. Do you have to obey an instruction from an officer, even if you feel it's not right?....yes you sure should.

For an example of this.......an officer asks you to step out of your vehicle (TV/MH) and you say "I don't have to".....immediately an alarm goes off in the officer's mind that something is very wrong.....so wrong as to cause him to react out of fear for his/her own safety.
If a driver refused to comply with a very reasonable request, which nearly any sane, reasonable and "normal" person would do without hesitation.... like to get out of the vehicle, what possibly more could be going on here flashes in his head.
This is where potential trouble rears it's ugly head.

The OP is perfectly correct in opting to refuse to have his/her RV searched and NO reasonable officer will push that.....minus any other "cause" outlined above and or others as the case may be.

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TonyDtorch

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #13 on: September 08, 2017, 04:16:40 PM »
many officers regard the "refusal to search" as probable cause....so you're kinda screwed either way.

(unless you show him a retired LEO card)
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 04:18:44 PM by TonyDtorch »

marcortez

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #14 on: September 08, 2017, 04:20:20 PM »
many officers regard the "refusal to search" as probable cause....so you're kinda screwed either way.

Then that officer is wrong!!

More intense training is needed while cleaning out patrol cars for the next shift for 30 days.

« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 04:23:15 PM by marcortez »
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Gary RV_Wizard

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #15 on: September 08, 2017, 04:44:09 PM »
Thanks, marcortez, for the practical advice. We can all "road lawyer" till the cows come home, but practical explanations are the most useful when a topic is as subjective as this one.
Gary
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TonyDtorch

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #16 on: September 08, 2017, 04:49:06 PM »
diplomacy is your only defense.   Cops are happy to remind you of who is in control of the situation.
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 04:50:38 PM by TonyDtorch »

Gizmo

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #17 on: September 08, 2017, 04:56:13 PM »
Interesting topic, I too am interested to hear what Kevin's wife has to say.
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TonyDtorch

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #18 on: September 08, 2017, 05:39:45 PM »
Then that officer is wrong!!

More intense training is needed while cleaning out patrol cars for the next shift for 30 days.

Cops have ways of dispersing street justice on uncooperative people, (IMO it's the futility of the job weighs on them)   They might not be able to make an arrest or even write a citation,   but they can still ruin your whole day.

Back in my younger days they would tear our cars apart looking for weed....and then drive away. 
« Last Edit: September 08, 2017, 05:50:15 PM by TonyDtorch »

Kevin Means

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #19 on: September 09, 2017, 01:52:53 PM »
Sorry we couldn't respond until now. Everything in the following paragraphs is Cyndi's explanation. She wants to emphasize a couple of things... this is legal information, NOT legal advice. Also, this is general information, not necessarily applicable to all states or federal jurisdictions.

1. A search warrant is needed before searching a "residence." There are exceptions to this including, but not limited to, exigency, consent, checking the welfare of someone inside or a parole/probation waiver of 4th amendment rights.

2. Motorhomes, trailers, campers and popups may be considered "residences" requiring a search warrant, by the courts.

3. Factors determining if something is a residence include, but are not limited to - is someone actually "living" there? For example, are there plates, silverware, bedding, food, a fridge, stove, clothing, personal items - indications that the individual is using the RV for the activities associated with the privacy of the home? And, in the case of RVs, is there a clear indication that it is not simply being parked/stored? Does the individual occupying the RV have "standing" (can they claim 4th amendment rights there?) For example, do they own it, did they rent it, do they have the owner's permission?

4. To complicate matters, many jurisdictions consider motorhomes and campers to be "vehicles," and popups and trailers to be "residences," (for purposes of "residential burglary" - a more serious crime than "vehicular burglary.") Also, the Vehicle Codes in most jurisdictions consider motorhomes and campers to be "vehicles" when out on the road, whereas trailers, etc. are not, as they are not being "driven." With traffic stops, the courts may also consider the potential for loss of evidence, due to the "mobility" of RVs on the road. These distinctions might also be used by the courts in determining whether a particular type of RV is a "residence" or "vehicle," or whether a search warrant is needed, during a traffic stop.
 
5. Additionally, some "regulatory" law enforcement/agencies, such as Fish and Game, Border Patrol, Agricultural Inspectors, etc. often have the legal authority to stop and search without a search warrant.
 
6. Often, there are no "black and white" answers in the law. Different jurisdictions and/or judges, will frequently rule differently on the same issues, and the legality of any search will be determined by the courts.

7. Finally, in most jurisdictions, it is unlawful to resist even an unlawful search or arrest.

(This is Kev again) I hope this helps the OP and others. I knew, when I saw the questions, that there weren't going to be any black and white answers, and while that's unfortunate, it is what it is. Cyndi spent a lot of time trying to word her answers, so they'd be as clear as possible, but we're talking about the law, and as everyone knows, there's a LOT of ambiguity.

Kev
« Last Edit: September 09, 2017, 02:00:46 PM by Kevin Means »
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SargeW

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #20 on: September 09, 2017, 02:07:06 PM »
And the rulings from Judge to Judge in the same building can be different. That's why I like the way she framed it as "legal information".   In most cases when dealing with a LEO, just going with the flow when asked to provide ID or step out of the vehicle will speed things along tremendously.  Digging your heels in and refusing simple requests will surly be a short cut to a long drawn out contact.
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marcortez

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #21 on: September 09, 2017, 02:27:16 PM »
   In most cases when dealing with a LEO, just going with the flow when asked to provide ID or step out of the vehicle will speed things along tremendously.  Digging your heels in and refusing simple requests will surly be a short cut to a long drawn out contact.

Precisely......poking an officer in the eye with insults, slurs, parental heritage, upbringing, "deplorable", hick, hillbilly, jerk and other such degrading terms, will almost guarantee a more "thorough" examination, looking for the "not quite so obvious" or a "courtesy safety check", (which would have been overlooked in a normal course) infractions that can cost money and or time.

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Smokey613

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #22 on: September 09, 2017, 04:11:19 PM »
I started my LEO career in 1977 with the Harris County SO in Houston, Tx. I retired from another agency as a Lieutenant in 2005 and returned to the profession in 2015. I am currently a Deputy City Marshal. I said all that to preface MHO. The best advise I can give is to comply with all LEO request. Remain calm and polite. This will be in your favor later if there is an issue with the legality of the stop. The side of the road is not the place to physically resist. Voice your objections to document your belief that their actions are unwarranted. Trust me, you may eventually prevail in court but the "ride" will be much more enjoyable if you just comply. With all that being said, I would never give verbal consent to a search. Make them go through the steps required under the law. This will allow the possibility of any evidence obtain to be excluded in court due to an improper search. Again, this is MHO and as such is worth just what it's worth.

ClickHill

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #23 on: September 09, 2017, 09:06:01 PM »
Kevin,

Thank your honey for her time and expertise, I was waiting to read her reply.

As far as a warrant or no warrant for a search of anything (car, RV, home, my pockets or even my thoughts) my simple answer is always - No Poly, No statement, No waiver! That's what we have courts for not cops, but in no case resist because then your wrong.

Unfortunately the justice system is not very black and white and with almost every issue the answer is "it depends".

« Last Edit: September 10, 2017, 06:35:21 AM by ClickHill »
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Kevin Means

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #24 on: September 10, 2017, 01:12:32 AM »
It's important to remember that, "this forum is a place to exchange ideas, obtain help and talk about anything related to RVs, RVing, the RVing lifestyle, activities conducted in conjunction with RVing and the hobbies and interests of RVers. These rules are provided for the purpose of making the RV Forum a friendly and informative experience for all members of the forum."

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KandT

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #25 on: September 14, 2017, 04:09:18 AM »
Drive the speed limit, check your lights, give no reason to be stopped and be legal and courteous.  This should keep us out of the situation all together.

I was stopped once on a busy street - turned right on a red with a sign saying "no turn on red".  I said to the officer "I know you have to do what you have to do but why don't we pull into that parking lot so you aren't standing out in the street.  This isn't safe for you."  He said give me your license first.  I said "sure - I am not trying to run but this isn't safe". He said " Just get out of here".   I'll take it!  I think they are so use to people arguing and fighting this officer was taken aback by my concern for HIS safety.  How could you right someone a ticket that just expressed concern about you?

Didn't hurt that I had a preschooler in the backseat.
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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #26 on: September 14, 2017, 05:10:47 AM »
If it is your address, it is your home.

Jack L

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #27 on: September 14, 2017, 06:19:11 AM »
If it is your address, it is your home.

Jack L

So my home is my mail forwarder's building? Darn, I'll have ask if they have room service there... ;)
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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #28 on: September 14, 2017, 10:56:31 AM »
A little off topic, but one of the most educational things I've ever done was a Ride Along with a police officer for a 4-12 shift. This was in a high crime city. If you ever really want to see what Law Enforcement have to go through try a Ride Along.
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NY_Dutch

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Re: Is an RV a "home" or a "vehicle" under the law?
« Reply #29 on: September 14, 2017, 12:58:45 PM »
I agree a ride along can be very educational, but I guarantee while you're hoping to see some action, the LEO behind the wheel is hoping for a very boring shift... :)
Dutch
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