Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Fourth Amendment - Search and Seizure - Automobile Exception - Collins V. Virginia

Academic journal article Harvard Law Review

Fourth Amendment - Search and Seizure - Automobile Exception - Collins V. Virginia

Article excerpt

The axiom is familiar: searches conducted without warrants are per se unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment--"subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." (1) The rule has been eroded by its exceptions in most contexts. (2) But it has held strong in one: the home. (3) Last Term, in Collins v. Virginia, (4) the Supreme Court continued the tradition by holding that the warrant requirement's automobile exception could not justify an officer's warrantless search of a vehicle parked in the immediate surroundings of a home. (5)

The Court reversed the contrary decision of the Supreme Court of Virginia and remanded. Limiting its holding to the automobile exception, the Court noted that the intrusion "may have been reasonable on a different ... exception to the warrant requirement." (6) On remand, however, the lower court cannot find the officer's entry justified on the basis of any recognized warrant exception while remaining faithful to the Collins reasoning.

In July 2013, Officer David Rhodes spotted defendant Ryan Collins driving a motorcycle at 100 miles per hour, nearly twice the speed limit on the Virginia road. (7) Officer Rhodes tried to stop him, but Collins zipped away at a speed of over 140 miles per hour. (8) Just weeks earlier, a motorcyclist had outrun one of Officer Rhodes's colleagues under similar circumstances. (9) In the interest of safety, that officer had also abandoned his chase, but not before taking note of the motorcycle's distinctive features: orange and black paint and an extended frame. (10) The officers, both of the Albemarle, Virginia, police department, compared notes and concluded that the same motorcyclist had evaded them both. (11)

Officer Rhodes used footage from his dashboard camera to pull the motorcycle's license plate number. (12) He soon learned that the motorcycle was stolen and that the driver, Ryan Collins, had bought it without title earlier that year. (13) Six weeks after Rhodes's chase, police responded to a report from the Department of Motor Vehicles that Collins was trying to register a different stolen vehicle. (14) Officer Rhodes decided to go to the DMV as well so that he could ask Collins about the motorcycle. (15) Collins denied knowing anything about it, even after being shown photos of the motorcycle that the officer had pulled from Collins's own Facebook page. (16) The photos showed the motorcycle parked in the driveway of a house in Charlottesville. (17)

Officer Rhodes found the house's address that same day. (18) He drove over and parked along the street. (19) From his car, he could see a motorcycle peeking out from under a white tarp and parked in the same spot as the motorcycle in the Facebook photos. (20) Officer Rhodes walked up the driveway and, to "investigate further," pulled off the tarp. (21) He snapped a photo of the motorcycle--orange and black and with an extended frame. (22) He put the tarp back, returned to his car, and lay in wait. (23)

Before long, Collins arrived and entered the house. (24) It belonged to his girlfriend, but Collins was a regular overnight guest. (25) Officer Rhodes went up to the home and knocked on the front door; Collins answered and agreed to speak with him. (26) After Collins admitted to having bought the motorcycle without title, Officer Rhodes arrested him, and a grand jury indicted him for receiving stolen property. (27) Collins moved to suppress all evidence that resulted from Officer Rhodes's warrantless search, but the trial court denied his motion and Collins was convicted. (28)

The Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed, finding the search lawful under the warrant requirement's exigent circumstances exception. (29) First, the officer had probable cause to believe that the motorcycle was evidence of a crime. (30) Second, a motorcycle is "inherent[ly] mobil[e]," and Collins knew that police officers might be looking for his because Officer Rhodes had asked him about it at the DMV. …

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