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Name: Collins v. Virginia
Case #: 16-1027
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 05/29/2018
Subsequent History: 138 S.Ct. 1663
Summary

The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment does not permit police to enter the curtilage of a home without a warrant in order to search a vehicle parked therein. During an investigation of two traffic incidents involving an orange and black motorcycle, police learned the motorcycle was likely stolen and in Collins’ possession. They traced the motorcycle to the driveway of a house and saw what appeared to be a motorcycle under a tarp. Without a warrant, an officer walked up the driveway, removed the tarp, and ran a search on the license plate and VIN number, which confirmed the motorcycle was stolen. Collins was charged with receiving stolen property. He moved to suppress on the ground the officer violated the Fourth Amendment by trespassing on the curtilage to search the motorcycle. The trial court denied the motion and Collins was convicted. The Supreme Court of Virginia ultimately upheld the search under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed. A warrantless search of an automobile can be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment if an officer has probable cause to search the vehicle (the automobile exception). However, if an officer physically intrudes on the curtilage of a home to gather evidence without a warrant, a presumptively unreasonable search within the meaning of Fourth Amendment occurs. Here, in physically intruding on the curtilage to search the motorcycle, police not only invaded Collin’s interest in the item searched (i.e. the motorcycle), but also invaded his interest in the curtilage of the home. The automobile exception did not justify the invasion of the curtilage because the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself. Just as an officer must have a lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in plain view, an officer must have a lawful right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant to the automobile exception, which does not provide this lawful right of access.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1027_7lio.pdf