Supreme Court Declines To Expand The Automobile Exception
The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure allows police officers to search vehicles without a warrant, as long they have probable cause to believe that there is evidence or contraband in the vehicle. The automobile exception has traditionally been restricted to public ways, and now the Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed this application of the exception.
In the case before the court, Collins v. Virginia, a police officer saw a motorcycle in a driveway that matched the description of a motorcycle that had been involved in a high-speed chase. The police officer walked onto the driveway and lifted a tarp that covered the motorcycle in order to look at the license plate and confirm that the motorcycle was the one involved in the chase. The owner of the motorcycle was arrested and later convicted based on this motorcycle identification. The search was deemed legal by lower courts on the basis of the automobile exception.
On these facts, the Supreme Court ruled that the automobile exception does not give the police the authority to search the curtilage of a person’s home without a warrant. The curtilage is the area of a person’s home that is immediately surrounding the home that the Supreme Court has ruled is protected as much as the home in terms of the Fourth Amendment. The case was remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings.
The Supreme Court’s decision is important because the court refused to expand the automobile exception. However, the Supreme Court did not impair the automobile exception or reduce its application to police searches of cars in public places. The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment still gives the police a powerful tool when it comes to conducting searches without a warrant. The police can use the automobile exception to search a car for drugs after smelling alcohol or drugs on a driver’s breath if they have probable cause they will find drugs or alcohol in the car.
If the police conduct warrantless searches that are deemed unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and that do not fit with any exception, the evidence recovered can be excluded and cannot be used against the accused. In order to move for the court to exclude improper evidence, the defense has to file a motion to suppress the evidence and ask the court for a hearing at which the court can grant or deny the motion. In cases where the prosecution’s case is based in large part or solely on the excluded evidence, the prosecution may drop the charges or offer a favorable plea deal.
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If you are charged with a criminal offense, you need to consult a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to determine if you have viable defenses, or if there are motions that can be filed to suppress the evidence against you. If you are facing criminal charges in West Palm Beach, Florida, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. Contact Scott Berry Law for a free consultation today.