Regarded as a victory for Fourth Amendment advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 against a warrantless police search that involved a Virginia officer entering private property in order to examine a motorcycle covered by a tarp in the driveway near a home. Law enforcement authorities relied on a line of Supreme Court cases, allowing police to search a vehicle without a warrant.
Writing the majority opinion, Justice Sonia Sotomayor stated the automobile exception does not apply when searching vehicles parked adjacent to a home. She said that the constitutional protections for a person's home and the surrounding area—known as curtilage—outweigh the police interest in conducting a vehicle search without a warrant.
“To allow an officer to rely on the automobile exception to gain entry to a house or its curtilage for the purpose of conducting a vehicle search would unmoor the exception from its justifications, render hollow the Fourth Amendment protection the Constitution extends to the house and its curtilage, and transform what was meant to be an exception into a tool with far broader application,” wrote Justice Sotomayor.
The case originated with Ryan Collins (Collins v. Virginia), who had evaded police twice in 2013 while riding an orange and black motorcycle in Virginia. Law enforcement used Collin's Facebook page to track the motorcycle to his girlfriend's house. Without a warrant, officers walked onto the driveway, lifted a tarp covering the motorcycle, ran the bike's plates, and confirmed it was stolen. Collins was then arrested.
Keep in mind, warrantless searches are allowed in “exigent circumstances,” when the evidence might disappear if not examined immediately. Lower courts were ordered to consider that issue.
For more information, contact our Ventura criminal defense attorney at The Law Offices of Jarrod M. Wilfert today.