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Monday, June 4, 2018

U.S. Supreme Court Expands 4th Amendment Protection to Vehicles in Driveways

In Collins v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a challenge to a police search of a motorcycle located in a partially enclosed carport on a driveway adjacent to the defendant’s home. 

In the course of investigating the ownership and location of a motorcycle seen excessively speeding, Officer Rhodes went to the address where a similar motorcycle was known to be present. At the house, Rhodes observed a white tarp covering a motorcycle.  Without a warrant, the officer  walked up the driveway to where the motorcycle was parked and uncovered the tarp.  The officer discovered the same motorcycle involved in the speeding incident.  After running a search of the license plate and vehicle identification number, he confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen and photographed the motorcycle before replacing the tarp. Collins was later charged and convicted of stealing a motorcycle. 

The Virginia state courts rejected Collins’ claim that the officer’s search violated his 4th Amendment rights,finding that the search fell under the automobile exception of the 4th Amendment.  That exception recognizes that a vehicle has the opportunity to leave during the time period that an officer would have to obtain a search warrant.  In addition, vehicles that travel on public highways are generally subject to regulation while being operated.  When an officer has probable cause to find a motor vehicle was used to commit a violation on a public way, a search of an automobile is justified without a warrant.

On appeal, the U.S. Supreme Court found, in an 8-1 ruling, that Collins had greater constitutional protections because of where the motorcycle was parked.  The area outside of a home where an owner still has a right to privacy is described as the “curtilage” of a person's property.  Courts have held that because the curtilage is intimately linked to the home, physically and psychologically, it is entitled to greater privacy expectations. The Supreme Court found that the driveway where Collins’ motorcycle was parked qualified as curtilage. As a result, Collins’ had a greater 4th Amendment right when his motorcycle was parked there than if it had been parked on the street. 

The Court then looked to see if the automobile exception applied to the officer’s warrantless search.  However, the Court found that there is nothing about the automobile exception that gives an officer the right to enter a home or its curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant. 

Local attorneys and code enforcement officers should closely examine the case to determine how to investigate and issue citations against motor vehicles located on private driveways.

Post Authored by Megan Mack & Adam Simon, Ancel Glink


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