January 9, 2018
WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF VIRGINIA
SOTOMAYOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
ROBERTS, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan,
and GORSUCH, JJ., joined.
the investigation of two traffic incidents involving an
orange and black motorcycle with an extended frame, Officer
David Rhodes learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen
and in the possession of petitioner Ryan Collins. Officer
Rhodes discovered photographs on Collins' Facebook
profile of an orange and black motorcycle parked in the
driveway of a house, drove to the house, and parked on the
street. From there, he could see what appeared to be the
motorcycle under a white tarp parked in the same location as
the motorcycle in the photograph. Without a search warrant,
Office Rhodes walked to the top of the driveway, removed the
tarp, confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen by running the
license plate and vehicle identification numbers, took a
photograph of the uncovered motorcycle, replaced the tarp,
and returned to his car to wait for Collins. When Collins
returned, Officer Rhodes arrested him. The trial court denied
Collins' motion to suppress the evidence on the ground
that Officer Rhodes violated the Fourth Amendment when he
trespassed on the house's curtilage to conduct a search,
and Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property. The
Virginia Court of Appeals affirmed. The State Supreme Court
also affirmed, holding that the warrantless search was
justified under the Fourth Amendment's automobile
The automobile exception does not permit the warrantless
entry of a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle
therein. Pp. 3- 14.
(a) This case arises at the intersection of two components of
the Court's Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the
automobile exception to the warrant requirement and the
protection extended to the curtilage of a home. In announcing
each of the automobile exception's
justifications-i.e., the "ready mobility of the
automobile" and "the pervasive regulation of
vehicles capable of traveling on the public highways, "
California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390, 392-the
Court emphasized that the rationales applied only to
automobiles and not to houses, and therefore supported their
different treatment as a constitutional matter. When these
justifications are present, officers may search an automobile
without a warrant so long as they have probable cause.
Curtilage-"the area 'immediately surrounding and
associated with the home'"-is considered "
'part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment
purposes.'" Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S.
1, 6. Thus, when an officer physically intrudes on the
curtilage to gather evidence, a Fourth Amendment search has
occurred and is presumptively unreasonable absent a warrant.
(b)As an initial matter, the part of the driveway where
Collins' motorcycle was parked and subsequently searched
is curtilage. When Officer Rhodes searched the motorcycle, it
was parked inside a partially enclosed top portion of the
driveway that abuts the house. Just like the front porch,
side garden, or area "outside the front window, "
that enclosure constitutes "an area adjacent to the home
and 'to which the activity of home life
extends.'" Jardines, 569 U.S., at 6, 7.
Because the scope of the automobile exception extends no
further than the automobile itself, it did not justify
Officer Rhodes' invasion of the curtilage. Nothing in
this Court's case law suggests that the automobile
exception gives an officer the right to enter a home or its
curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant. Such an
expansion would both undervalue the core Fourth Amendment
protection afforded to the home and its curtilage and
"'untether'" the exception " 'from
the justifications underlying'" it. Riley v.
California, 573 U.S.___, ___. This Court has similarly
declined to expand the scope of other exceptions to the
warrant requirement. Thus, just as an officer must have a
lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in
plain view in order to seize it without a warrant-see
Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 136-137-and just
as an officer must have a lawful right of access in order to
arrest a person in his home-see Payton v. New York,
445 U.S. 573, 587-590-so, too, an officer must have a lawful
right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant
to the automobile exception. To allow otherwise would unmoor
the exception from its justifications, render hollow the core
Fourth Amendment protection the Constitution extends to the
house and its curtilage, and transform what was meant to be
an exception into a tool with far broader application. Pp.
(c) Contrary to Virginia's claim, the automobile
exception is not a categorical one that permits the
warrantless search of a vehicle anytime, anywhere, including
in a home or curtilage. Scher v. United States, 305
U.S. 251; Pennsylvania v. Labron, 518 U.S. 938,
distinguished. Also unpersuasive is Virginia's proposed
bright line rule for an automobile exception that would not
permit warrantless entry only of the house itself or another
fixed structure, e.g., a garage, inside the
curtilage. This Court has long been clear that curtilage is
afforded constitutional protection, and creating a carveout
for certain types of curtilage seems more likely to create
confusion than does uniform application of the Court's
doctrine. Virginia's rule also rests on a mistaken
premise, for the ability to observe inside curtilage from a
lawful vantage point is not the same as the right to enter
curtilage without a warrant to search for information not
otherwise accessible. Finally, Virginia's rule
automatically would grant constitutional rights to those
persons with the financial means to afford residences with
garages but deprive those persons without such resources of
any individualized consideration as to whether the areas in
which they store their vehicles qualify as curtilage. Pp.
292 Va. 486, 790 S.E.2d 611, reversed and remanded.
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. It does not.
Matthew McCall of the Albemarle County Police Department in
Virginia saw the driver of an orange and black motorcycle
with an extended frame commit a traffic infraction. The
driver eluded Officer McCall's attempt to stop the
motorcycle. A few weeks later, Officer David Rhodes of the
same department saw an orange and black motorcycle traveling
well over the speed limit, but the driver got away from him,
too. The officers compared notes and concluded that the two
incidents involved the same motorcyclist.
further investigation, the officers learned that the
motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of
petitioner Ryan Collins. After discovering photographs on
Collins' Facebook profile that featured an orange and
black motorcycle parked at the top of the driveway of a
house, Officer Rhodes tracked down the address of the house,
drove there, and parked on the street. It was later
established that Collins' girlfriend lived in the house
and that Collins stayed there a few nights per
his parked position on the street, Officer Rhodes saw what
appeared to be a motorcycle with an extended frame covered
with a white tarp, parked at the same angle and in the same
location on the driveway as in the Face-book photograph.
Officer Rhodes, who did not have a warrant, exited his car
and walked toward the house. He stopped to take a photograph
of the covered motorcycle from the sidewalk, and then walked
onto the residential property and up to the top of the
driveway to where the motorcycle was parked. In order
"to investigate further, " App. 80, Officer Rhodes
pulled off the tarp, revealing a motorcycle that looked like
the one from the speeding incident. He then ran a search of
the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, which
confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen. After gathering
this information, Officer Rhodes took a photograph of the
uncovered motorcycle, put the tarp back on, left the
property, and returned to his car to wait for Collins.
thereafter, Collins returned home. Officer Rhodes walked up
to the front door of the house and knocked. Collins answered,
agreed to speak with Officer Rhodes, and admitted that the
motorcycle was his and that he had bought it without title.
Officer Rhodes then arrested Collins.
was indicted by a Virginia grand jury for receiving stolen
property. He filed a pretrial motion to suppress the evidence
that Officer Rhodes had obtained as a result of the
warrantless search of the motorcycle. Collins argued that
Officer Rhodes had trespassed on the curtilage of the house
to conduct an investigation in violation of the Fourth
Amendment. The trial court denied the motion and Collins was
Court of Appeals of Virginia affirmed. It assumed that the
motorcycle was parked in the curtilage of the home and held
that Officer Rhodes had probable cause to believe that the
motorcycle under the tarp was the same motorcycle that had
evaded him in the past. It further concluded that Officer
Rhodes' actions were lawful under the Fourth Amendment
even absent a warrant because "numerous exigencies
justified both his entry onto the property and his moving the
tarp to view the motorcycle and record its identification
number." 65 Va.App. 37, 46, 773 S.E.2d 618, 623(2015).
Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed on different reasoning. It
explained that the case was most properly resolved with
reference to the Fourth Amendment's automobile exception.
292 Va. 486, 496-501, 790 S.E.2d 611, 616-618 (2016). Under
that framework, it held that Officer Rhodes had probable
cause to believe that the motorcycle was contraband, and that
the warrantless search therefore was justified. Id.,
at 498-499, 790 S.E.2d, at 617.
granted certiorari, 582 U.S. ___(2017), and now reverse.
Fourth Amendment provides in relevant part that the
"right of the people to be secure in their persons,
houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches
and seizures, shall not be violated." This case arises
at the intersection of two components of the Court's
Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the automobile exception to
the warrant requirement and the protection extended to the
curtilage of a home.
Court has held that the search of an automobile can be
reasonable without a warrant. The Court first articulated the
so-called automobile exception in Carroll v. United
States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925). In that case, law
enforcement officers had probable cause to believe that a car
they observed traveling on the road contained illegal liquor.
They stopped and searched the car, discovered and seized the
illegal liquor, and arrested the occupants. Id., at
134-136. The Court upheld the warrantless search and seizure,
explaining that a "necessary difference" exists
between searching "a store, dwelling house or other
structure" and searching "a ship, motor boat, wagon
or automobile" because a "vehicle can be quickly
moved out of the locality or jurisdiction in which the
warrant must be sought." Id., at 153.
"ready mobility" of vehicles served as the core
justification for the automobile exception for many years.
California v. Carney, 471 U.S. 386, 390 (1985)
(citing, e.g., Cooper v. California, 386 U.S. 58, 59
(1967); Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U.S. 42, 51-52
(1970)). Later cases then introduced an additional rationale
based on "the pervasive regulation of vehicles capable
of traveling on the public highways." Carney,
471 U.S., at 392. As the Court explained in South Dakota
v. Opperman, 428 U.S. 364 (1976):
"Automobiles, unlike homes, are subjected to pervasive
and continuing governmental regulation and controls,
including periodic inspection and licensing requirements. As
an everyday occurrence, police stop and examine vehicles when
license plates or inspection stickers have expired, or if
other violations, such as exhaust fumes or excessive noise,
are noted, or if headlights or other safety equipment are not
in proper working order." Id., at 368.
announcing each of these two justifications, the Court took
care to emphasize that the rationales applied only to
automobiles and not to houses, and therefore supported
"treating automobiles differently from houses" as a
constitutional matter. Cady v. Dombrowski, 413 U.S.
433, 441 (1973).
these justifications for the automobile exception "come
into play, " officers may search an automobile without
having obtained a warrant so long as they have probable ...