Collins v. Commonwealth, Record No. 151277

Docket NºRecord No. 151277
Citation824 S.E.2d 485
Case DateMarch 28, 2019
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

824 S.E.2d 485

Ryan Austin COLLINS
v.
COMMONWEALTH of Virginia

Record No. 151277

Supreme Court of Virginia.

MARCH 28, 2019


Travis C. Gunn (Matthew A. Fitzgerald ; Brian D. Schmalzbach ; Charles L. Weber, Jr., Charlottesville; McGuireWoods, Richmond, on briefs), for appellant.

Matthew R. McGuire, Principal Deputy Solicitor General (Mark R. Herring, Attorney General; Toby J. Heytens, Solicitor General; Victoria Pearson, Deputy Attorney General; Christopher P. Schandevel, Assistant Attorney General, on brief), for appellee.

PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Powell, and Kelsey, JJ., and Koontz, S.J.

OPINION BY JUSTICE D. ARTHUR KELSEY

824 S.E.2d 487

This case returns to us on remand from the United States Supreme Court. It involves an unsuccessful motion to suppress filed in the trial court by Ryan Austin Collins. Convicted of receipt of stolen property, Collins appealed to the Court of Appeals, claiming that the trial court should have excluded evidence obtained by police during a warrantless search of a motorcycle parked on a private residential driveway. The Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, holding that exigent circumstances justified the search. See Collins v. Commonwealth , 65 Va. App. 37, 46-48, 773 S.E.2d 618 (2015). On further appeal to us, we affirmed on a different ground, holding that the automobile exception justified the warrantless search. See Collins v. Commonwealth , 292 Va. 486, 488, 506, 790 S.E.2d 611 (2016).

On certiorari review, the United States Supreme Court reversed our decision and held: "This case presents the question whether the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment permits a police officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter the curtilage of a home in order to search a vehicle parked therein. It does not." Collins v. Virginia , ––– U.S. ––––, 138 S.Ct. 1663, 1668, 201 L.Ed.2d 9 (2018). The Court limited its holding to the interplay between the automobile exception and the curtilage doctrine. "We leave for resolution on remand," the Court stated, "whether Officer Rhodes’ warrantless intrusion on the curtilage of Collins’ house may have been reasonable on a different basis, such as the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement." Id. at 1675. On remand, the Commonwealth argues that two independent grounds support the trial court’s decision to deny Collins’s motion to suppress: the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement and the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

I.

The factual background of this case has been fully addressed in the previous opinions and we therefore need not repeat that background here. In our opinion, the exclusionary rule does not apply in this case even if no exigent circumstances existed because, at the time of the search, a reasonably well-trained officer would not have known that the search of the motorcycle, located a few feet across the curtilage boundary of a private driveway, was unconstitutional.1

824 S.E.2d 488

A.

We begin with a settled but often overlooked premise. Standing alone, "[t]he fact that a Fourth Amendment violation occurred — i.e., that a search or arrest was unreasonable — does not necessarily mean that the exclusionary rule applies." Herring v. United States , 555 U.S. 135, 140, 129 S.Ct. 695, 172 L.Ed.2d 496 (2009). The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures but "says nothing about suppressing evidence obtained in violation of this command." Davis v. United States , 564 U.S. 229, 236, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011). This textual silence has a simple explanation.

"Historically, the only remedies for unconstitutional searches and seizures were ‘tort suits’ and ‘self-help.’ " Collins , 138 S.Ct. at 1676 (Thomas, J., concurring) (quoting Utah v. Strieff , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 2056, 2061, 195 L.Ed.2d 400 (2016) ).2 At the time of the Founding, "[t]he exclusionary rule — the practice of deterring illegal searches and seizures by suppressing evidence at criminal trials — did not exist. No such rule existed in ‘Roman Law, Napoleonic Law or even the Common Law of England.’ " Id. (quoting Warren E. Burger, Who Will Watch the Watchman? , 14 Am. Univ. L. Rev. 1, 1 (1964)). "The Founders would not have understood the logic of the exclusionary rule either. Historically, if evidence was relevant and reliable, its admissibility did not ‘depend upon the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the mode, by which it [was] obtained.’ " Id. (alteration in original) (quoting United States v. the La Jeune Eugenie , 26 F. Cas. 832, 843 (C.C.D. Mass. 1822) (No. 15,551) (Story, J.)).3

B.

Recognizing the absence of any historical basis for the exclusionary rule, the United

824 S.E.2d 489

States Supreme Court has rejected its own earlier "[e]xpansive dicta" that had "suggested that the rule was a self-executing mandate implicit in the Fourth Amendment itself." Davis , 564 U.S. at 237, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (citation omitted). It is not. Instead, the United States Supreme Court has "acknowledge[d] the exclusionary rule for what it undoubtedly is — a ‘judicially created remedy’ of [that] Court’s own making," id. at 238, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (citation omitted), and not "a personal constitutional right," Stone v. Powell , 428 U.S. 465, 486, 96 S.Ct. 3037, 49 L.Ed.2d 1067 (1976).

The exclusionary rule does not serve to "redress," Davis , 564 U.S. at 236, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (citation omitted), or to "repair," Elkins v. United States , 364 U.S. 206, 217, 80 S.Ct. 1437, 4 L.Ed.2d 1669 (1960), any specific violation under review. The exclusionary rule is a self-limiting, "prudential" doctrine whose "sole purpose ... is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations," Davis , 564 U.S. at 236-37, 131 S.Ct. 2419, rather than to serve as a "reparation or compensatory dispensation to the injured criminal," United States v. Janis , 428 U.S. 433, 454 n.29, 96 S.Ct. 3021, 49 L.Ed.2d 1046 (1976) (citation omitted). "Where suppression fails to yield ‘appreciable deterrence,’ exclusion is ‘clearly unwarranted.’ " Davis , 564 U.S. at 237, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (alteration and citation omitted).

Even appreciable deterrence, standing alone, cannot justify the application of the exclusionary rule. As the United States Supreme Court emphasized in Davis ,

Real deterrent value is a "necessary condition for exclusion," but it is not "a sufficient" one. The analysis must also account for the "substantial social costs" generated by the rule. Exclusion exacts a heavy toll on both the judicial system and society at large. It almost always requires courts to ignore reliable, trustworthy evidence bearing on guilt or innocence. And its bottom-line effect, in many cases, is to suppress the truth and set the criminal loose in the community without punishment. Our cases hold that society must swallow this bitter pill when necessary, but only as a "last resort." For exclusion to be appropriate, the deterrence benefits of suppression must outweigh its heavy costs.

Id. (citations omitted).

The "heavy costs" of suppressing the truth, id. , should always be a court’s "last resort, not [its] first impulse," Hudson v. Michigan , 547 U.S. 586, 591, 126 S.Ct. 2159, 165 L.Ed.2d 56 (2006). "To trigger the exclusionary rule, police conduct must be sufficiently deliberate that exclusion can meaningfully deter it, and sufficiently culpable that such deterrence is worth the price paid by the justice system." Herring , 555 U.S. at 144, 129 S.Ct. 695. This deliberateness requirement focuses "the inquiry on the ‘flagrancy of the police misconduct’ at issue." Davis , 564 U.S. at 238, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (citation omitted). The rule thus seeks "to deter deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence." Herring , 555 U.S. at 144, 129 S.Ct. 695. Only in such circumstances can the violation be deemed "patently unconstitutional" or be characterized as "flagrant conduct," id. at 143-44, 129 S.Ct. 695, thereby justifying exclusion.

C.

When determining whether to apply the exclusionary rule, "[t]he pertinent analysis of deterrence and culpability is objective" and " ‘is confined to the objectively ascertainable question whether a reasonably well trained officer would have known that the search was illegal’ in light of ‘all of the circumstances.’ " Id. at 145, 129 S.Ct. 695 (citation omitted). "These circumstances frequently include a particular officer’s knowledge and experience, but that does not make the test any more subjective than the one for probable cause, which looks to an officer’s knowledge and experience, but not his subjective intent." Id. at 145-46, 129 S.Ct. 695 (citations omitted).

Lower courts disagree regarding the scope of the good faith exception. Some apply it only when binding appellate precedent had specifically authorized a search or seizure that a later case subsequently deemed unconstitutional. See, e.g. , United States v. Martin , 712 F.3d 1080, 1081-82 (7th Cir. 2013) (per

824 S.E.2d 490

curiam). These courts abjure any reliance upon an officer’s objective, good faith belief unless that belief was based upon binding precedent specifically authorizing the...

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7 practice notes
  • The Broken Fourth Amendment Oath.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 74 Nbr. 3, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...of the exclusionary rule based in part on "an examination of [the Fourth Amendment's] origin and purposes"); Collins v. Commonwealth, 824 S.E.2d 485, 488-89 (Va. 2019) (noting that the Supreme Court had recently limited the exclusionary rule because it "recogniz[ed]" that, at the time of th......
  • Knight v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0323-19-1
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 7, 2020
    ...doctrine whose ‘sole purpose ... is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations.’ " Collins v. Commonwealth, 297 Va. 207, 214, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019) (quoting Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 236-37, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2426-27, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011) ). When, as here, police officers delib......
  • Reed v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1305-15-4
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • November 12, 2019
    ...to the Virginia Supreme Court.A similar argument was recently addressed by the Supreme Court in Collins v. Commonwealth, 297 Va. 207, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019). Similar to the situation in Reed, Collins also involved an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence of a warrantless search. Id. at 21......
  • Taylor v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0719-18-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 16, 2019
    ...or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence." Collins v. Commonwealth, ––– Va. ––––, ––––, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019) (first quoting Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 238, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2427, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011) (citation omitted); then quotin......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • Knight v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0323-19-1
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 7, 2020
    ...doctrine whose ‘sole purpose ... is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations.’ " Collins v. Commonwealth, 297 Va. 207, 214, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019) (quoting Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 236-37, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2426-27, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011) ). When, as here, police officers delib......
  • Reed v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1305-15-4
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • November 12, 2019
    ...to the Virginia Supreme Court.A similar argument was recently addressed by the Supreme Court in Collins v. Commonwealth, 297 Va. 207, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019). Similar to the situation in Reed, Collins also involved an unsuccessful motion to suppress evidence of a warrantless search. Id. at 21......
  • Taylor v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0719-18-2
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • April 16, 2019
    ...or grossly negligent conduct, or in some circumstances recurring or systemic negligence." Collins v. Commonwealth, ––– Va. ––––, ––––, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019) (first quoting Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229, 238, 131 S.Ct. 2419, 2427, 180 L.Ed.2d 285 (2011) (citation omitted); then quotin......
  • Merid v. Commonwealth, Record No. 1145-19-4
    • United States
    • Virginia Court of Appeals of Virginia
    • May 12, 2020
    ...unconstitutional" or be characterized as "flagrant conduct," thereby justifying exclusion. Collins v. Commonwealth, 297 Va. 207, 215, 824 S.E.2d 485 (2019) (citations omitted). The conduct at issue here was not 72 Va.App. 119 only consistent with the demands of the Fourth Amendment, but it ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • The Broken Fourth Amendment Oath.
    • United States
    • Stanford Law Review Vol. 74 Nbr. 3, March 2022
    • March 1, 2022
    ...of the exclusionary rule based in part on "an examination of [the Fourth Amendment's] origin and purposes"); Collins v. Commonwealth, 824 S.E.2d 485, 488-89 (Va. 2019) (noting that the Supreme Court had recently limited the exclusionary rule because it "recogniz[ed]" that, at the time of th......

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