Can police come to your house, lift the motorcycle cover, and run the plates? | Collins v. Virginia

Can police come to your house, lift the motorcycle cover, and run the plates? | Collins v. Virginia

During the investigation of two traffic incidents involving an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame, the officers learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of petitioner Ryan Collins. The Officer discovered photographs on Collins’ Facebook profile of an orange and black motorcycle parked in the driveway of a house, drove to the house, and parked on the street.

From there, he could see what appeared to be the motorcycle under a white tarp parked in the same location as the motorcycle in the photograph. Without a search warrant, the Office walked to the top of the driveway, removed the tarp, confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen by running the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, took a photograph of the uncovered motorcycle, replaced the tarp, and returned to his car to wait for Collins. When Collins returned, the Officer arrested him.

The petitioner says that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment when he trespassed on the house’s curtilage to conduct a search, and Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property.

This case arises at the intersection of two components of the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and the protection extended to the curtilage of a home.

As an initial matter, the part of the driveway where Collins’ motorcycle was parked and subsequently searched is curtilage. When Officer Rhodes searched the motorcycle, it was parked inside a partially enclosed top portion of the driveway that abuts the house. Just like the front porch, side garden, or area “outside the front window,” that enclosure constitutes “an area adjacent to the home and ‘to which the activity of home life extends.’ ”

Because the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself, it did not justify Officer Rhodes’ invasion of the curtilage.

Full Opinion at https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-1027_7lio.pdf

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
LAWSTACHE™ LAW FIRM | Criminal Defense and Business Law
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