In an 8-1 vote last week, the U.S. Supreme Court said that law enforcement must have a warrant to search vehicles parked at private homes. This is the second time this month that the justices rejected arguments by police for expanding the “automobile exception” to Fourth Amendment rules against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The case (Collins v. Virginia) arose from a search for a Virginia motorcyclist who committed two traffic offense while riding a distinctive orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame. Police pursued the suspect, but the person eluded them.
After some investigation, Albemarle County police were able to track down the suspect, Ryan Collins, to his girlfriend’s house. Later, Officer David Rhodes—without a warrant or an invitation—discovered a similar motorcycle, hidden underneath a tarp outside the home. The motorcycle, it turned out, was stolen.
Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property after Virginia courts denied his motion to suppress the evidence obtained by law enforcement’s search. The main question for the Supreme Court was whether or not the Fourth Amendment, which bars unreasonable searches, applied in this case.
The court said that, with regard to the Fourth Amendment, the home is at the top of the list. The amendment’s protections extend to a home’s “curtilage,” which means the areas surrounding the house, such as driveways. In the end, the justices ruled that “whether the automobile exception justifies the invasion of the curtilage. The answer is no.”
This decision is considered a win for privacy rights.