An exception to the Fourth Amendment established during the Prohibition era that allows warrantless police searches of vehicles should not extend to vehicles parked on private property, contends a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.
The case arose when Virginia police suspected Ryan Collins of harboring a stolen motorcycle at the home of his girlfriend, where he frequently stayed, but the officers didn’t have probable cause for a search warrant.
Police spotted a white tarp near the house covering what appeared to be a motorcycle.
“Without any invitation, permission or warrant, police walked onto the private driveway, crossed over to the patio and lifted the tarp, revealing the motorcycle,” said Rutherford Institute.
“Using this information, police determined that the motorcycle was stolen and waited on a side street, monitoring the house. When Collins returned to the house, police arrested and charged him with receiving stolen property.”
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The courts rejected the defense’s argument that the search was warrantless and, therefore, a violation of the Fourth Amendment “by trespassing onto private property.”
They said the actions were within the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception.
But that exception, Rutherford argued, “arose out of the Prohibition era in order to crack down on bootleggers who were using vehicles to smuggle liquor.”
Constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and author of “Battlefield America: The War on the American People,” argued that “even with this exception on the books, police cannot merely disregard the 4th Amendment whenever it suits their purposes.”
“As the Supreme Court itself has recognized, ‘Illegitimate and unconstitutional practices get their first footing in that way, namely, by silent approaches and slight deviations from legal modes of procedure.'”
He warned that such moves are gradually eroding constitutional rights of protection against searches.
The brief asks the Supreme Court to stop police “from entering private residential property and approaching a home, uninvited and without a warrant, in order to search a vehicle parked a few feet from the house.”
During Prohibition, an exception was made for searching automobiles without a warrant, because police needed to be able to search for goods that were being “concealed and illegally transported.”
But that shouldn’t be allowed when the vehicle is within the constitutionally protected areas of a home, Rutherford argued.
Rutherford explained: “The case arose after Virginia police entered residential property without permission and without a warrant, lifted the cover off a motorcycle and inspected identification numbers on the vehicle in order to determine whether the motorcycle had been stolen. Albemarle County police had been looking for the operator of a motorcycle involved in two separate high-speed incidents.”
The brief raises several issues: “The automobile exception … was first created to allow the warrantless search of vehicles because of the uniquely mobile nature of automobiles. But a search of a vehicle is vastly different than a search for a vehicle, and the policy justifications underlying the exception simply to not apply to searches for vehicles.”
The brief continued: “A simple illustration makes the point: If, in place of the motorcycle, the tarp revealed a stolen stereo, or bag of cocaine, or any other type of contraband or illegal substance, even if those items were on wheels or in a wagon, the automobile exception could not be invoked. The fact that police were looking for a motorcycle rather than these other items does not change the analysis.”
“Police State USA: How Orwell’s Nightmare Is Becoming Our Reality” chronicles how America has arrived at the point of being a de facto police state and what led to an out-of-control government that increasingly ignores the Constitution. Order today!