Collins v. Virginia [SCOTUSbrief]
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Collins v. Virginia [SCOTUSbrief]


All of the key events of this case happened
in the fall of 2013 when someone on a motorcycle eluded several officers of the Charlottesville
Police Department. They didn’t know who it was because he was
wearing a helmet, but they thought they could recognize the motorcycle, which was somewhat
unusual. Ultimately, they came upon Mr. Collins and
they saw what they thought was the motorcycle parked outside of his house under a cover. The police then uncovered the motorcycle,
ran the VIN number and the license, and determined that the motorcycle had been stolen. After that, they arrested Mr. Collins for
possession of a stolen motorcycle and he was prosecuted, convicted, and, I believe, served
several months in jail for this offense. The core issue in this case is whether the
police needed a warrant when they searched Mr. Collins’ motorcycle. It is not disputed that the police had probable
cause to do that, but under the typical rules for the search of a house, or the area around
a house, the police would need both probable cause and a warrant. So Mr. Collins’ argument here and the main
issue is whether this search was proper without a warrant. The great tension and the, the interesting
collision in this case is between the Fourth Amendment’s protection of the home, which
would require a warrant, and the lesser protections that normally apply to vehicles, which normally
don’t require a warrant. The Fourth Amendment is the governing legal
standard in this case and it protects the right of the people, including their homes,
from unreasonable searches and seizures. And so the way that’s been interpreted by
the Supreme Court in the past is that the search of someone’s house nearly always requires
both probable cause and a warrant. The automobile exception, which has existed
for 90 years and it’s based on a perfectly reasonable idea that people have a lesser
expectation of privacy in their cars ’cause they drive them around and people are able
to see into them, they’re parked in parking lots and along the side of the road. So the fact that warrants are not required
typically to search a car makes sense. The core argument for Virginia is that the
automobile exception doesn’t particularly have limits and that the basis of the automobile
exception, cars are readily mobile, and that there’s a lesser expectation of privacy in
cars and other vehicles. The core argument for Collins is that the
protections of the home and curtilage are at the core of the original Fourth Amendment
and that those protections trump the vehicle exception, which normally does not require
a warrant. So what Collins is saying is vehicle or no
vehicle, if you come within the curtilage of my home, you need probable cause and a
warrant. If the Commonwealth prevails and the Court
says the automobile exception applies wherever an automobile is found, that would be a major
movement for the interest of privacy in this country, because, after all, people keep their
vehicles in garages and carports. They keep their vehicles under covers parked
next to their house. And so the Supreme Court will address whether
the police can search around in a car just outside of their house. If Mr. Collins prevails under the exclusionary
rule, the evidence of the motorcycle will be excluded from his criminal prosecution
and most likely his conviction for possession of a stolen motorcycle will be thrown out.

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