Police must have a warrant to search a car parked in a driveway, the Supreme Court held in an opinion issued Tuesday.
The justices in an 8-to-1 opinion said a driveway is equivalent to the area surrounding the home, which is given 4th Amendment protection.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the opinion for the court and cited prior cases that required a search warrant for a law enforcement officer to enter and search the “curtilage” of a home.
“Such conduct thus is presumptively unreasonable absent a warrant,” she wrote.
The case stems from a conviction in Virginia where a man committed traffic violations while riding an orange-and-black motorcycle he had purchased without a title.
Unable to catch the man and ticket him for the infractions, a police officer tracked down the bike from Facebook photographs and discovered it belonged to Ryan Collins.
After arriving at the home where Collins was staying, the police officer entered the driveway and lifted a tarp covering the motorcycle to identify it, which after running the plates, he discovered was stolen property.
He arrested Collins, who argued the search violated the 4th Amendment and his conviction should be tossed.
The lower court had sided with the officer, who argued the automobile exception, which allows law enforcement the ability to search vehicles sans a warrant if they have probable cause, provided him the ability to lift the tarp and arrest Collins.
The high court, though, rejected the officer’s claim and said the automobile exception does not apply when a car is parked in the area surrounding a home.
“Expanding the scope of the automobile exception in this way would both undervalue the core Fourth Amendment protection afforded to the home and its curtilage,” Justice Sotomayor wrote.
Justice Samuel A. Alito, though, disagreed with the majority and said the police officer acted reasonably with respect to Collins.
Justice Alito said the outcome of the case would have been different if the motorcycle was parked on the curb roughly 30 feet away.
“The Fourth Amendment is neither an ‘ass’ nor an ‘idiot.’ Its hallmark is reasonableness, and the Court’s strikingly unreasonable decision is based on a misunderstanding of Fourth Amendment basics,” Justice Alito wrote in his dissent.