The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution generally prohibits searches and seizures by government authorities without first obtaining a warrant. However, over the course of this nation’s history, the Supreme Court has noted that this is not a blanket prohibition, and, in some instances, warrantless searches and seizures may occur. Thus, whether obtaining a warrant is necessary is not a black-and-white issue, and an experienced criminal defense attorney can advocate for suppressing evidence illegally obtained. Recently, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against warrantless searches does, in fact, apply to searches contained within an individual’s home’s curtilage (area and structure immediately surrounding a home). A discussion of this case, and what it may mean to individuals, will follow below.
Collins v. Virginia
The facts of this case are fairly simple, and focus on the need for a warrant in light of the placement of a motorcycle on the defendant’s property. A motorcycle was stolen, and, during the theft, the suspect led law enforcement on a high-speed chase, eventually eluding them. A few months later, the motorcycle was tracked to an individual’s home. Law enforcement happened upon the home, and saw a motorcycle in the driveway under a tarp. Walking up to the tarp, law enforcement lifted the tarp, ran the VIN of the motorcycle, took photos, and waited for the homeowner to arrive, at which point he was arrested. Upon conviction, the defendant appealed to the Supreme Court.
The Court’s analysis focused on two issues – the automobile (or vehicle) exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment and whether Fourth Amendment protection extends to the curtilage of one’s home. Generally, the vehicle exception allows warrantless searches of vehicles if there is probable cause to do so. This is justified by the inherent mobility of vehicles, in that they can be transported, or can transport items inside them, great distances within a short period of time. However, houses are not moveable, and, as such, squarely fall under Fourth Amendment protection. In fact, warrantless searches of homes, including the areas immediately surrounding them, are presumptively illegal, even if supported by probable cause. This is because individuals have an expectation of privacy in their homes and in the curtilage surrounding them. Thus, the Court found the search by police was unlawful.
What this Decision Means
As alluded to above, one of the touchstones of the Fourth Amendment is that individuals should be secure in their homes and in other areas in which they are deemed to have an expectation of privacy. This decision rightly confirms that, and any search of those areas by law enforcement should only be permitted under a validly-issued warrant. An individual’s home, and the curtilage surrounding it, are sacrosanct in this country, and law enforcement better have a good reason, or a warrant, before venturing into that area.
However, other areas in which a person might assume he/she would have an expectation of privacy, but does not according to the law, also should be noted, Garbage placed on a curb awaiting pickup by the trash collector, has no expectation of privacy because it is considered left open to the public. So, for example, if the tarp had not been disposed over the motorcycle, and law enforcement was able to read the license place from the street, just as if they would be able to read a license plate of a vehicle parked in an open garage, the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment would most likely not apply.
Hire A Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with a crime in which you believe the government violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against warrantless searches and seizures, and especially if something was taken from your yard, contact the experienced criminal defense attorneys at the Los Angeles law firm Manshoory Law Group, APC as soon as possible. The attorneys there will use their expertise to argue for suppression of any illegally-obtained evidence to obtain the best possible results. Attorneys are available 24/7 to take your call. Contact us today for an initial consultation.