Know the Law- Warrantless searches

4th Amendment Prohibits Unreasonable Searches without a Warrant

This past month, the US Supreme Court issued an important ruling about the 4th Amendment, which says that “people have the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.” The ultimate goal is to protect people’s right to privacy and freedom from unreasonable government intrusions.  However, the Fourth Amendment does not guarantee protection from all searches without a warrant.

The US Supreme Court has said that law enforcement officers do not need to secure a warrant from a judge in order to search a vehicle, as long as they have probable cause. This is because of the ready mobility of automobiles and the regulation of vehicles traveling on public highways.

Home Searches without a Warrant are Unreasonable

The US Supreme Court has also said that police officers who conduct searches without a warrant of the home or the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home, also known as the “curtilage,” are unreasonable. If a police officer intrudes onto the curtilage to gather evidence, they are conducting a 4th amendment search. This search would be unreasonable, unless the police officer has a search warrant.

Police Officers Need a Warrant to Search a Vehicle on the Curtilage

In the case of Collins v. Virginia, the recent question before the US Supreme Court was whether the automobile exception justifies the invasion of the curtilage in order to search a vehicle.

A pair of police officers in Virginia were searching for an automobile that escaped them multiple times. Without a warrant, the officers walked up the driveway of the motorcyclist’s home, pulled off the tarp to the bike, and ran a search on the license plate. They later arrested the defendant for stolen property.

The US Supreme Court said that the 4th Amendment’s automobile exception does not allow for searches without a warrant of a home or its curtilage. Once the vehicle became part of the curtilage, the police officers needed to get a search warrant form a judge.

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