The Constitution does not permit a warrantless police search of a vehicle parked in a driveway next to the owner’s house, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. The court rejected an argument by Virginia police who claimed their search of a motorcycle believed to be stolen fell under the “automobile exception” to the Fourth Amendment, which allows broader searches of vehicles stopped along the side of the road. The justices ruled that the officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they went to the motorcyclist’s home and found the distinctive orange-and-black Suzuki motorcycle that they’d been looking for under a tarp in the driveway.
The Fourth Amendment normally requires police to have a warrant to conduct a search. But one exception to that general rule, known as the “automobile exception,” was at the heart of this case: It allows police to search a car without a warrant if the car is “readily mobile” and they have probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of a crime. But the Supreme Court in Collins v. Virginia that the exception does not justify an intrusion on the “curtilage” of a home – the area immediately surrounding the house, where residents expect privacy.