In an 8-to-1 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that police in Virginia violated the Fourth Amendment by walking onto the driveway of home in order to peek under a tarp that was covering a stolen motorcycle, as the Justices decided the officer had run afoul of the Constitution by engaging in a warrantless search.
The court's majority said "a parking patio or carport into which an officer can see from the street is no less entitled to protection from trespass and a warrantless search than a fully enclosed garage."
"[T]he most frail cottage in the kingdom is absolutely entitled to the same guarantees of privacy as the most majestic mansion,” the court's majority quoted from a 1982 case.
At issue was an orange and black motorcycle, which had been the subject of police attention for various traffic infractions in two different incidents, but officers were unable to stop the driver.
Police were able to link the motorcycle to the defendant, Ryan Collins, via photos on his Facebook page, and then discovered the bike, parked in the driveway of his girlfriend's house - covered with a tarp.
The State of Virginia argued that police were allowed - under what's known as the 'automobile exception' - to check to see if it this was the motorcycle in question, after finding that it was also a stolen vehicle.
The automobile exception lets officers search a vehicle stopped on the roads, when there is visible evidence, or probable cause that there is criminal evidence within the car or truck.
But in this case, the motorcycle was parked in a driveway, on private property.
"This case presents the question whether the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment permits a police officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter the curtilage of a home in order to search a vehicle parked therein," wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in the majority's decision.
"It does not," Sotomayor concluded
There was only one dissent - Justice Samuel Alito - who argued his colleagues were completely wrong.
"The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable” searches. What the police did in this case was entirely reasonable. The Court’s decision is not," Alito wrote.
Alito noted that that "If the motorcycle had been parked at the curb, instead of in the driveway," then the officer would have been legally allowed to look under the tarp, and find the stolen vehicle.
Alito quoted Mr. Bumble from 'Oliver Twist' - "If that is the law, he exclaimed, "the law is a ass - a idiot."
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