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The police might be allowed to search your property without warrant

If the state of Virginia gets its way at the Supreme Court, police across the country would have the authority to search someone’s car, even if it’s parked inside a private property, without a warrant.

Traditionally, cops haven’t been allowed to search inside a house or its “curtilage” — the legal name for the structures that surround a house, such as a porch — without a warrant. But in 2013, Virginia cops did just that to a man named Ryan Collins. Now, the Supreme Court will decide whether the police violated Collins’ Fourth Amendment rights by searching his motorcycle without a warrant.

Collins v. Virginia, which the court will hear on Tuesday, could redefine just how far police can intrude on private property.

In 2013, two Virginia cops were on the hunt for a motorcyclist who’d outrun them in two high-speed pursuits. They suspected Collins. After the officers searched his social media profiles and discovered a photo of a covered motorcycle parked at his girlfriend’s house, one of the officers headed to her house. He found the motorcycle parked in the back of the driveway beneath an enclosure, which Collins’ lawyers argue falls under the definition of curtilage.

“The curtilage is treated as part of the home, and the home is given the most scrupulous protection under the Fourth Amendment,” explained Tracey Maclin, a professor at Boston University Law. “That’s where you barbecue, that’s where you have a pool, that’s where you might sit out sunbathing.”

But the officer lifted the cover on the motorcycle anyway and discovered it was stolen. Collins was soon convicted of possessing stolen property.

In his appeal, Collins’ lawyers argued the police had no right to search Collins’ enclosure in the first place under the Fourth Amendment. Allowing police to search vehicles located inside the curtilage, they said, could dramatically curtail the protections of the Fourth Amendment.

“Any vehicle with probable cause could be searched anywhere, any time. Officers
could creep into garages and carports at night, removing tarps, rummaging for contraband in glove boxes,” Collins’ lawyers wrote in their petition to the Supreme Court. “If officers can intrude upon curtilage to search a vehicle, there is no reason why they could not walk through a house to reach a car in the backyard.”

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  • J Peters

    I think it’s going to hinge on the fact that a driveway isn’t a curtelege and that there was no forced entry.

    • PJ London

      What is the legal basis for ‘driveway’ not being curtelege?
      ‘the curtilage of a house or dwelling is the land immediately surrounding it, including any closely associated buildings and structures’
      Edit :
      The 4th amendment says nothing about ‘forced entry’.
      ‘prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. It requires governmental searches and seizures to be conducted only upon issuance of a warrant, judicially sanctioned by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized’
      If this is upheld, then the 4th is dead.
      End edit

    • Zaphod Braden

      Lifting the cover was FORCE …..Doubt me? “touch” a PIG and they will be screaming “I was in fear for my life and HAD to shoot him” ………..

      • J Peters

        Sure it was ‘a force’ (in the physics sense) but it wasn’t ‘forced entry’ (in the legal sense.) Forced entry generally requires that something be broken, like a lock or a door frame, otherwise any action in the physical world no matter how minuscule would be ‘force’ which is just not how it’s legally defined (for good reason.)

        • Zaphod Braden

          If YOU did it to them it is force ….. simply stepping over a threshold is “breaking the barrier”

  • Bonnie Wills

    “He found the motorcycle parked in the back of the driveway beneath an enclosure, which Collins’ lawyers argue falls under the definition of curtilage.”

    The motorcycle was not simply parked in the driveway; beneath an enclosure could mean a carport or even a garage. Since it is under a roof-like structure, the lawyer argued, that would be considered to be an extension of the house, or a curtilage.