Collins v. Virginia, 052918 FEDSC, 16-1027

Docket Nº:16-1027
Opinion Judge:SOTOMAYOR JUSTICE
Party Name:RYAN AUSTIN COLLINS, PETITIONER v. VIRGINIA
Judge Panel:SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., concurring Justice Alito, dissenting.
Case Date:May 29, 2018
Court:United States Supreme Court
SUMMARY

While investigating traffic incidents involving an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame, Officer Rhodes learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in Collins’ possession. On Collins’ Facebook profile, Rhodes discovered photographs of an orange and black motorcycle parked in the driveway of a house. From the street, Rhodes could see what appeared to be the motorcycle under a... (see full summary)

 
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584 U.S. ____ (2018)

RYAN AUSTIN COLLINS, PETITIONER

v.

VIRGINIA

No. 16-1027

United States Supreme Court

May 29, 2018

Argued January 9, 2018

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA

SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, and GORSUCH, JJ., joined.

During the investigation of two traffic incidents involving an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame, Officer David Rhodes learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of petitioner Ryan Collins. Officer Rhodes 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, Office Rhodes 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, Officer Rhodes arrested him. The trial court denied Collins' motion to suppress the evidence on the ground that Officer Rhodes violated the Fourth Amendment when he trespassed on the house's curtilage to conduct a search, and Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property. The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed. The State Supreme Court also affirmed, holding that the warrantless search was justified under the Fourth Amendment's automobile exception.

Held:

The automobile exception does not permit the warrantless entry of a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein. Pp. 3- 14.

(a) 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. In announcing each of the automobile exception's justifications-i.e., the "ready mobility of the automobile" and "the pervasive regulation of vehicles capable of traveling on the public highways, " California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390, 392-the Court emphasized that the rationales applied only to automobiles and not to houses, and therefore supported their different treatment as a constitutional matter. When these justifications are present, officers may search an automobile without a warrant so long as they have probable cause. Curtilage-"the area 'immediately surrounding and associated with the home'"-is considered " 'part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.'" Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 6. Thus, when an officer physically intrudes on the curtilage to gather evidence, a Fourth Amendment search has occurred and is presumptively unreasonable absent a warrant. Pp. 3-6.

(b)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.'" Jardines, 569 U.S., at 6, 7.

Because the scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself, it did not justify Officer Rhodes' invasion of the curtilage. Nothing in this Court's case law suggests that the automobile exception gives an officer the right to enter a home or its curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant. Such an expansion would both undervalue the core Fourth Amendment protection afforded to the home and its curtilage and "'untether'" the exception " 'from the justifications underlying'" it. Riley v. California, 573 U.S.___, ___. This Court has similarly declined to expand the scope of other exceptions to the warrant requirement. Thus, just as an officer must have a lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in plain view in order to seize it without a warrant-see Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 136-137-and just as an officer must have a lawful right of access in order to arrest a person in his home-see Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 587-590-so, too, an officer must have a lawful right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant to the automobile exception. To allow otherwise would unmoor the exception from its justifications, render hollow the core Fourth Amendment protection the Constitution extends to the house and its curtilage, and transform what was meant to be an exception into a tool with far broader application. Pp. 6-11.

(c) Contrary to Virginia's claim, the automobile exception is not a categorical one that permits the warrantless search of a vehicle anytime, anywhere, including in a home or curtilage. Scher v. United States, 305 U.S. 251; Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938, distinguished. Also unpersuasive is Virginia's proposed bright line rule for an automobile exception that would not permit warrantless entry only of the house itself or another fixed structure, e.g., a garage, inside the curtilage. This Court has long been clear that curtilage is afforded constitutional protection, and creating a carveout for certain types of curtilage seems more likely to create confusion than does uniform application of the Court's doctrine. Virginia's rule also rests on a mistaken premise, for the ability to observe inside curtilage from a lawful vantage point is not the same as the right to enter curtilage without a warrant to search for information not otherwise accessible. Finally, Virginia's rule automatically would grant constitutional rights to those persons with the financial means to afford residences with garages but deprive those persons without such resources of any individualized consideration as to whether the areas in which they store their vehicles qualify as curtilage. Pp. 11-14.

292 Va. 486, 790 S.E.2d 611, reversed and remanded.

OPINION

SOTOMAYOR JUSTICE

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.

I

Officer Matthew McCall of the Albemarle County Police Department in Virginia saw the driver of an orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame commit a traffic infraction. The driver eluded Officer McCall's attempt to stop the motorcycle. A few weeks later, Officer David Rhodes of the same department saw an orange and black motorcycle traveling well over the speed limit, but the driver got away from him, too. The officers compared notes and concluded that the two incidents involved the same motorcyclist.

Upon further investigation, the officers learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of petitioner Ryan Collins. After discovering photographs on Collins' Facebook profile that featured an orange and black motorcycle parked at the top of the driveway of a house, Officer Rhodes tracked down the address of the house, drove there, and parked on the street. It was later established that Collins' girlfriend lived in the house and that Collins stayed there a few nights per week.1

From his parked position on the street, Officer Rhodes saw what appeared to be a motorcycle with an extended frame covered with a white tarp, parked at the same angle and in the same location on the driveway as in the Face-book photograph. Officer Rhodes, who did not have a warrant, exited his car and walked toward the house. He stopped to take a photograph of the covered motorcycle from the sidewalk, and then walked onto the residential property and up to the top of the driveway to where the motorcycle was parked. In order "to investigate further, " App. 80, Officer Rhodes pulled off the tarp, revealing a motorcycle that looked like the one from the speeding incident. He then ran a search of the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, which confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen. After gathering this information, Officer Rhodes took a photograph of the uncovered motorcycle, put the tarp back on, left the property, and returned to his car to wait for Collins.

Shortly thereafter, Collins returned home. Officer Rhodes walked up to the front door of the house and knocked. Collins answered, agreed to speak with Officer Rhodes, and admitted that the motorcycle was his and that he had bought it without title. Officer Rhodes then arrested Collins.

Collins was indicted by a Virginia grand jury for receiving stolen property. He filed a...

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