Category: Constitutional Law

Supreme Court Holds Fourth Amendment to Obtain Search Warrant for Automobiles

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Justice Sotomayor, delivering the majority opinion in Collins v. Virginia, held that the automobile exemption does not permit warrantless searches of automobiles located in the home or curtilage. 2018 U.S. LEXIS 3210 (U.S. Supreme Court, May 29, 2018). In Collins, the police were investigating two highspeed traffic violations involving a stolen motorcycle.

Officer Rhodes, while investigating the matter, obtained photographs of Ryan Collins with a motorcycle fitting the description of the motorcycle involved in the traffic violations. Upon obtaining this information, Rhodes drove to Collins’ girlfriend’s home and observed what appeared to be a motorcycle underneath a tarp in the driveway. Rhodes, without a search warrant, walked on to the residential property, removed the tarp, and determined that the motorcycle was the one involved with the traffic incidents. Rhodes, after taking pictures of the motorcycle, returned to his car and waited for Collins to arrive. Collins was arrested and although he filed a pretrial motion to exclude evidence, Collins was convicted. The trial court, the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and Supreme Court of Virginia concluded that the evidence was admissible because Rhodes had probable cause and that this case would fall under the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment.

In his appeal to the Supreme Court, Collins argued that the motorcycle was protected by the Fourth Amendment because, although not inside the home, the Fourth Amendment applies to “the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home” known as the “curtilage.” Secondly, Collins argued that even though Rhodes was searching a vehicle, the automobile exceptions does not grant unwarranted entry of the curtilage of one’s property.

The Court, in assessing Collins’ first argument determined that due to the location and design, his driveway was part of the curtilage. The driveway in this case was located alongside the house and was partially enclosed by brick walls on two sides and enclosed by the home on a third. Due to the driveways inherent attachment to the home the Court found that it was deserving of the same protection as a front porch, or side garden, and thus concluded that the driveway was part of the home’s curtilage.

The Court was faced with a much more difficult question when forced to assess the second issue in this matter, the automobile exception. The automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment states that police may search one’s automobile without a warrant if there is sufficient probable cause to do so. The reasoning behind this doctrine is that due to the inherent ability for an automobile to escape and drive off, the police are granted easier access in order to obtain necessary evidence. The Court rejected the argument that the automobile exceptions grants the police the ability to enter onto private property and conduct a warrantless search of the vehicle. The Court further declined to expand the scope of the automobile exception and based their decision on the foundation that, although they may have the right to search the vehicle without a warrant, they must also have the right to access the object itself. In this matter, Rhodes was without right to enter the private property, and thus his search of the motorcycle was unlawful. The Court held that the privacy of the home is paramount and to expand the scope of the automobile exception to allow for warrantless searches of a vehicle in the home or curtilage would violate the Fourth Amendment.

At the Law Offices of Sidkoff, Pincus & Green our experienced Pennsylvania and New Jersey attorneys handle many types of legal matters, including civil rights litigation. If you are interested in having a consultation with one of our Philadelphia business lawyers, please call us at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.

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ACLU Settles Cases Against City of Philadelphia

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The Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has settled two lawsuits against the city of Philadelphia filed by activists who claimed police retaliated against them for filming them in public. The City agreed to pay plaintiffs a combined settlement of $250,000, including attorney fees.

One of the litigants was a member of a police watchdog group. She alleged that she was pinned against a pillar by an officer just after filming his arrest of a protester in 2012 at a demonstration against fracking held outside the Philadelphia Convention Center. The other litigant was a student at Temple University. He alleged that a police officer saw him photographing police breaking up a house party across the street, and asked him if he liked taking photos of grown men. He was then taken into custody after refusing to leave. The police confiscated his cell phone and cited him for obstructing a public passageway. The charges were eventually dismissed because the police officer did not report to testify in court.

According to the ACLU, these two lawsuits were part of a series of five suits filed against the city for similar retaliatory police conduct. The cases settled several months after a federal appellate court ruled that recording police in public is a first amendment right. The ACLU believes the ubiquity of smartphones is one of the best tools for police accountability. Since 2012, the City of Philadelphia has had a policy that establishes very clear guidelines for allowing the public to record officers while they are engaging in their official duties. The policy was instituted after the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) weighed in on the issue, five years before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals recognized recording officers was a first amendment right. The policy prohibits officer retaliation against activities that are protected by the First Amendment.

The Third Circuit Judge acknowledged that we ask much of our police, yet as public officials engaging in public duties, the First Amendment requires them to allow being recorded in the interest of transparency. The Court noted that these recordings would often benefit the officers themselves. There are limits to when recording can be done, according to the Court’s opinion, in other words, the right is not absolute. If a recording interferes with an ongoing investigation or exposes a confidential informant, it is severely restricted or banned altogether.

Philadelphia Civil Rights Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in All Types of Civil Rights Violations

Philadelphia civil rights lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. regularly appear in both federal and state courts. We are familiar with the local rules of Pennsylvania and South Jersey courts, including discovery rules, pleadings procedures, brief timelines and formatting, trial practice, motion practice, settlement negotiations, and more. For more information, or to schedule a confidential consultation, call us at 215-574-0600 or contact us online today.