Supreme Court: police cannot enter driveway to search vehicle without warrant
© WikiMedia (Atomic903)

Supreme Court: police cannot enter driveway to search vehicle without warrant

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Tuesday that the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception does not permit a police officer to enter the area around a home to search a parked vehicle without an invitation or a search warrant.

In Collins v. Virginia [SCOTUSblog materials], the defendant was convicted of receiving a stolen motorcycle after a police officer entered the defendant’s driveway without a warrant to lift a tarp and check the motorcycle’s license plate. Although the defendant claimed the police officer violated the Fourth Amendment, the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that the search was constitutional under the automobile exception, which allows for a police officer to search a vehicle without a warrant if there is probable cause.

In reversing and remanding the court of appeals’ decision, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the eight-justice majority, said, “When a law enforcement officer physically intrudes on the curtilage [area immediately surrounding the home] to gather evidence, a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has occurred.” Therefore, a warrant is required. Sotomayor cited prior case law which defined curtilage as “part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.”

The sole dissenting justice, Samuel Alito, wrote that the automobile exception should still apply to a vehicle parked on a driveway because the reasoning behind the automobile exception—that the vehicle can easily be moved—is still applicable. He also wrote, “We have not held that the need to cross the curtilage independently necessitates a warrant, and there is no good reason to apply a different rule here.”