Supreme Court Upholds Privacy Rights in Warrantless Searches

Charlotte DWI Lawyer Brad Smith answers the question: “Can the police search my car without a warrant?”


One of the fundamental rights that American citizens have is the right to privacy. We have the right to feel secure in our person and be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and government intrusions. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution grants us this right. The crux of the Fourth Amendment is providing protection from the police, or other governmental institutions, from searching you or your belongings without the proper justification. The American judicial system has a whole host of cases dealing with exactly how far the right to privacy extends.


motorcycle-wheelie-Charlotte-Mooresville-Monroe-Criminal-Defense-Lawyer-300x225One of the biggest gray areas surrounding the right to privacy is the “automobile exception.” The automobile exception allows police to search a vehicle when there is probable cause that there is evidence or contraband present in the vehicle. Most often, this exception occurs in the realm of drug cases or stolen property. Recently, the United States Supreme Court ruled on another case involving the right to privacy and the automobile exception.


In Collins v. Virginia, police suspected that Ryan Collins was in possession of a stolen motorcycle. The motorcycle was suspected to be parked at Collins’ girlfriend’s home in the driveway. Instead of obtaining a warrant to search the property for the motorcycle, police relied on the automobile exception. While looking around the girlfriend’s house, the police observed an alleged motorcycle under a tarp. The motorcycle and tarp were not parked in the garage. Instead, the motorcycle and tarp were in a three-walled enclosure that was next to the house. The officers walked up the driveway and looked under the tarp and found the stolen motorcycle.


The police and the state of Virginia claim that the automobile exception applies to this case because it involved an automobile. The police then claimed they had probable cause to search under the tarp because they suspected that there was stolen property under it. Collins’ attorney  argued that the police did not have the right to invade his privacy. He argued that the three-walled enclosure was part of the home and therefore was subject to the right to privacy laws that are afforded to homes.


The court ruled that the automobile exception did not apply. The exception only applies to the inside of the vehicle, not an allegedly stolen vehicle under a tarp. Instead, the police were supposed to observe the heightened right to privacy that individuals have in their homes. The three-walled covering over the motorcycle and tarp are considered a part of the house and the right to privacy extended to it.


If you are suspected of committing a crime, your rights do not disappear. Regardless of the evidence surrounding the situation, a person is entitled to his or her constitutionally protected rights. The dedicated criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC are here to help you. We will examine every piece of evidence and make sure that the proper procedures were followed. There is no excuse for an infringement of rights. Contact us today for a consultation in or around Charlotte, Lake Norman, or our new office in Monroe (by appointment only until 2019), or call Arnold & Smith, PLLC today at (704) 370-2828






The criminal defense attorneys at Arnold & Smith, PLLC make it their mission to zealously defend their clients on a wide range of criminal matters at both the state and federal levels. These matters may include any charge from traffic offenses; DWI/DUI; drug charges (from simple possession to possession with intent to distribute and trafficking); gun permit denials; weapons offenses; and property crimes (larceny, breaking and entering, robbery, fraud, embezzlement, white collar offenses); to sexually related offenses (indecent exposure; sexual assault, crimes against nature, removal from sex offender registry); and violent crimes (domestic violence; assault; manslaughter; homicide, murder). Other legal issues that Arnold & Smith, PLLC criminal clients may be facing include restraining orders, restraining order and probation violations, expungements; appeals; and immigration issues related to criminal charges. Our criminal defense attorneys are passionate about ensuring that individuals empower themselves by being informed about their constitutional rights, and stand at the ready to fight in the defense of those facing criminal charges.





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