4TH AMENDMENT: RECENT SUPREME COURT CASES: WARRANTLESS EXCEPTIONS

The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable search and seizures:

Specifically the 4th Amendment provides:

THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLE TO BE SECURED IN THEIR PERSONS, HOUSES, PAPERS, AND EFFECTS, AGAINST ANY UNREASONABLE SEARCHES AND SEIZURES, SHALL NOT BE VIOLATED, AND NO WARRANTS SHALL ISSUE, BUT UPON PROBABLE CAUSE, SUPPORTED BY OATH OR AFFIRMATION, AND PARTICULARLY DESCRIBING THE PLACE TO BE SEARCHED,AND THE PERSONS OR THINGS TO BE SEIZED.

Over the years the Supreme Court has carved out numerous search exceptions to the warrant requirement of the 4th Amendment.

These exceptions are:

1. CONSENT

Knowing and voluntary consent to the search

2. SEARCH INCIDENT TO LAWFUL ARREST

Limited search of the person being arrested and his/her immediate surroundings in order to locate dangerous weapons for the safety and protection of the law enforcement and others.

3. PLAIN VIEW

Evidence that can be easily viewed and is in display, to search here a warrant is not required.

4. STOP AND FRISK

Ability to stop and frisk an individual when there is reasonable and articulable suspicion that a criminal activity is in progress.

5. AUTOMOBILE EXCEPTION

The officer must have probable cause that the vehicle in question or sought to be searched contains evidence of a crime or instrumentalities of a crime, or the fruits of a crime.

Under these circumstances due to fluid nature and the mobility of the vehicles, warrant is not required.

6. HOT PURSUIT

In cases where the evidence can be easily moved, destroyed or relocated and when the law enforcement is in active pursuit of a suspect.

7. EXIGENT CIRCUMSTANCES

Life threatening emergency or event in which time law enforcement officer is permitted to forcibly enter a property without a warrant to secure and to save lives.

The Supreme Court on January 9, 2018 in (Byrd v. U.S. & Collins v. Virginia ) considered via oral arguments two additional cases in which the law enforcement sought search without a proper warrant.

  • Cars parked on private property
  • Rental car search when the driver is not listed on the rental agreement

In the first instance, the police officers were in search of a motorcycle that was stolen and had evaded the police during a high speed search.

After two months of search, the motorcycle was located covered in a driveway and the officers had entered the driveway and uncovered the vehicle, seized it and made arrests

The government sought to expand the automobile exception to this case by arguing that due to the nature of crime and the chase ensured previously — the warrantless search should be deemed legal.

Justice Sotomayor’s initial response to this argument was:

“You’re asking us to expand the automobile exception dramatically and basically make an all-time exception forever,”

Justice Neil Gorsuch called the argument to expand the exception “a category mistake.”

The government lawyers also argued that carports, garages and other parts of the home structure should all fall under the warrantless searches of vehicles and that the doctrine wouldn’t threaten privacy within the home itself.

Chief Justice John Roberts remarked examples to the contrary.

What about “Jay Leno’s house, where he’s got dozens of rare cars, or the Porsche in ‘Ferris Bueller?’ ” he said, sparking laughter in the courtroom.

In the second case, a rented car was pulled over by the officers in the NJ over a minor traffic offense and the State Troopers had searched the truck of the vehicle without consent justifying that as the driver was not on the rental agreement he had no privacy rights to the vehicle and its content and his consent thus was not necessary.

A significant quantity of drugs were recovered from the vehicle.

Presumably only persons listed on the rental agreement and the rental company would have privacy interest in the content of the vehicle.

It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will extend the automobile exception to a parked motorcycle or by extension a vehicle on a private property under the automobile exception.

First the vehicle was unattended and not running. It was on a private property and also it was covered. Thirdly, it was nearly two months since the police chase and under the circumstances and collectively — the strong privacy interests to home and its surroundings and attachments outweigh the police interests in protecting the public.

In the case of the rental motor vehicle, it is unlikely that the Court will find the privacy interests of the unregistered user of a rented vehicle to outweigh the public interest in recovering a significant stash of drugs on a public highway.

Refer to our Washington DC Criminal Lawyer page for more information.

Categories: Criminal Defense.