Warrantless Motorcycle Search

A Virginia man was arrested after a police officer walked onto his driveway and pulled back a tarp covering a stolen motorcycle.

The exceptions of the Fourth Amendment dates back to a warrantless search of a suspected bootlegger's car looking for illegal alcohol. In that case, the Supreme Court found that a vehicle could be searched without a warrant as long as police have probable cause to believe it contains contraband or evidence of a crime because cars are mobile, and the evidence can be moved before the police are able to obtain a warrant to search them.

The Virginia case started with two high speed chases of a distinct orange and black motorcycle driven by Ryan Collins. In one chase, a police officer wrote down the motorcycle's license plate and recorded images of it. The number led police to a man who said he sold the motorcycle to Collins after telling him it was stolen. Then an officer looked at Collin's Facebook page, which had photos of an orange and black motorcycle parked in the driveway of a house his girlfriend rented. 

After walking onto the driveway, the officer lifted the cover, recorded the number and vehicle identification number, and after determining that it was the stolen motorcycle, replaced the cover. 

At the trial, Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property and was sentenced to three years in prison, with all but two months suspended.

Attorney Matthew Fitzgerald asked the Supreme Court to hear the case because the lower courts were split on whether the automobile exception applies to vehicles parked on private, residential property.  Fitzgerald argues that the exception does not apply because it falls within immediate area around the house and should have been protected by the Fourth Amendment search warrant requirement. He says that if the vehicle exception applies to wherever you find the vehicle, then that is a big hole in the warrant requirement.

The Virginia Supreme Court said that the officer's warrantless search of the motorcycle was justified because there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a vehicle parked on private property, but also exposed to public view. They also said the the officer had undisputed probable cause to believe the motorcycle was stolen and twice escaped the police by taking off at speeds of over 140 miles per hour.

Comments from Allen:  The Chief Justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court once told me that "The United States Constitution is not a technicality."  I sometimes have to remind people of this when they believe there is something evil about lawyers trying to get a case dismissed on the basis that evidence was seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protection of the right of a citizen to be protected from "unreasonable searches and seizures."  Whenever you see a case like State v. Collins, realize that the entire body of case law grew from years of judges sorting out when seizing an individual's property, or gathering evidence in a particular way, was or was not a violation of a citizen's rights.  The remedy of preventing improperly-seized evidence from being used at trial may seem extreme, but without it the Fourth Amendment would stand for nothing and the government could destroy your property at a whim in a never-ending search for evidence of some unnamed crime.

Most Fourth Amendment cases deal with the propriety of the stop of a car, or whether the contraband was in a place in which the owner had a "reasonable expectation of privacy," such as a toolbox in a garage, or the back of a pickup covered in a tarp.

Many questionable searches around Eastern Idaho recently have involved officers making threats that if they are not allowed to search a car they will bring a drug dog out and have the dog do a sniff around the car.  They do have drug dogs out here.  If the officer brings a dog out, and the dog indicates a finding of drugs, that often gives the officer probable cause to conduct a warrantless search.  However the delay waiting for the dog can't be "too long," or there will be a Constitutional violation.

Generally you do not want to give an officer permission to search your car.  Who knows what he might find?  Some of my clients have been arrested after allowing such a search, only to find that either there was a marijuana pipe that rolled under their seat last year, or that someone who borrowed their car left some drugs or drug paraphernalia in the car.  You don't want to give an invitation to an officer to try to gather evidence you have committed a crime.

If you do give an officer permission to search some thing or some place, even if you feel bullied or coerced to do so, you have probably waived your right to claim the evidence, the contraband, was illegally seized.


Allen Browning is an attorney in Idaho Falls, Idaho who handles personal injury and criminal defense. He has over 30 years of experience and handled thousands of cases. Allen handles cases from all over Idaho. Call (208) 542-2700 to set up a free consultation if you are facing legal trouble or you have been involved in an accident.

Also, check out browninglaw.net for more information about Allen and Browning Law.

Allen Browning can help with all personal injury claims including motor vehicle accidents, truck accidents, auto accidents, serious and disabling accidents, and wrongful death claims.

Allen Browning is an Idaho Falls attorney who can also help with drunk driving (DUI), traffic violations, Felony, Misdemeanor, Domestic Violence, Drug Crimes, Theft, Juvenile Crimes, battery and assault charges, Violent Crimes, and Probation/Parole Violations. He is one of the most experienced and successful criminal defense attorneys in Idaho.

Allen is able to provide his services if the incident occurs in the following Idaho Areas: American Falls, Arco, Blackfoot, Boise, Burley, Driggs, Idaho Falls, Malad City, Pocatello, Rexburg, Rigby, Salmon, St. Anthony, Twin Falls, Bannock County, Bingham County, Bonneville County, Butte County, Cassia County, Clark County, Fremont County, Jefferson County, Lemhi County, Madison County, Oneida County, Power County, Teton County, and Twin Falls County.

Sources for more information:


Popular posts from this blog

The Kavanaugh Conundrum

Family Sues After Woman is Killed by Amphibious Tour Boat

Man Sets Bunny on Fire