By Gabriel M. Berry, Marion County Prosecutor's Office
Advocates of the Fourth Amendment were recently victorious recently when in an 8-1 ruling the Supreme Court extended privacy protections to warrantless vehicular searches by Police to include the curtilage of a property owner.
While no changes were made to the plain view doctrine that allows police to visually inspect for contraband from outside a vehicle on a public roadway, the Court confirmed that vehicles parked under a carport or on the private property surrounding the home deserve an elevated level of protection.
In Collins v. Virginia, the vehicle in question, a distinctive motorcycle which had been in numerous traffic accidents, was suspected by police to be stolen by the Petitioner Collins. Police then went to the home of the girlfriend of Mr. Collins and from some distance, determined that the motorcycle in question was under a tarp on his property. Without a warrant, an officer on the scene walked on to the property and removed the tarp, and confirmed the motorcycle was in fact stolen by running the license plate. When Collins returned to the home, he was arrested.
The Court said that the lower court had errored by allowing the automobile exception to protect the warrantless search. Specifically, the Court said, “[T]he scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile exception gives an officer the right to enter a home or its curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant.”
Justice Samuel Alilto, the only Justice in dissent, stated that the Fourth Amendment only prohibits “unreasonable” searches of personal property, and insisted that Police have the right to enter the personal property of citizens at any time, without a warrant and search vehicles in the course of an investigation of a suspected crime.
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