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SCOTUS to address scope of 4th Amendment’s automobile exception

Collins v. Virginia, USSC No. 16-1027, cert granted 9/28/17; lower court opinion; USSC docket; SCOTUSblog page

Question presented: Whether the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception permits a police officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter private property, approach a house and search a vehicle parked a few feet from the house.

Two police officers were looking the person who eluded them on a motorcycle in some high-speed incidents. A few months after the incidents, they thought they spotted the motorcycle covered by a tarp at Collins’ residence. The motorcycle was in an enclosed space with a house on one side, a retaining wall on the other, and a brick wall along the back. The officers didn’t have permission to enter Collins’ property. Nevertheless, they lifted the tarp, obtained the license tag and VIN number, learned that the motorcycle was stolen, and arrested Collins for possession of stolen goods. The Virginia Supreme Court approved this search under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement.

Under that exception, if “a car is readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband, the Fourth Amendment . . . permits police to search the vehicle without more.” Maryland v. Dyson, 527 U.S. 465, 467 (1999). However, SCOTUS has not applied that rule on private, residential property. Coolidge v. New Hampshire, 403 U.S. 443, 474-75, 479-80, 482 (1971) (majority opinion); 458-64 (plurality opinion); California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386 (1985). The 5th Circuit, 10th Circuit, Georgia and Illinois require a warrant for the search of an automobile parked at a residence.  The 7th Circuit, 8th and 9th Circuits do not. Click here for the cites to those cases. The Wisconsin court of appeals has held that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement is not limited to cars parked in public places. State v. Marquardt, 2001 WI App 219, ¶45, 247 Wis. 2d 765. 635 N.W.2d 188.

According to Collins, the Virginia Supreme Court’s expansion of the automobile exception runs head-on into United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012) and Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013), which protect the curtilage of a home, and it swallows the 4th Amendment. Also, let’s be honest, the motorcycle didn’t contain any contraband. It was the contraband.




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