In a decision that has been considered a huge victory for privacy rights, the Supreme Court ruled in late May that police officers must generally obtain a warrant in order to search vehicles parked at a private home or on the surrounding area of the property.
In an 8-1 ruling in May, the court sided with Ryan Collins, a Virginia man who accused law enforcement officials of infringing upon his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure when an officer walked onto his girlfriend’s driveway in 2013 and uncovered his motorcycle underneath a tarp. The officer, who did not possess a warrant, conducted a license plate search on the motorcycle and discovered it was stolen. Collins was arrested for possessing stolen property and was later convicted of the charge.
According to Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing on behalf of the eight justices who ruled in Collins’ favor, the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has occurred when a police officer physically intrudes on the curtilage to collect evidence.
“The automobile exception does not permit an officer without a warrant to enter a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein,” stated Sotomayor. “The scope of the automobile exception extends no further than the automobile itself.”
In recent years, the Supreme Court has firmly defended the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. On May 14, the court ruled that unauthorized drivers of rental cars, whose names are not on the rental agreement, should generally be given the same privacy protections as authorized drivers. Prior to that case, it has held that law enforcement cannot use GPS equipment to track vehicles or search cellphones without a warrant.