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Police can search a car but cannot search a motorcycle

The Fourth Amendment's automobile exception allows for the warrant-less search of car for the sake of expediency. However, the Supreme Court ruled on May 29 that motorcycles parked on the driveway of a home are not included in that exception. The Court's 8-1 decision overturned a Virginia ruling.

Motorcycle found on private property

Law enforcement in Albemarle County had tried pulling over a motorcyclist on two occasions, but the driver got a way each time. According to an American Barrister Association Journal article, the sheriff's department found pictures on Facebook of the bike parked on a driveway and were able to use the picture to determine its location. The Sheriff's Deputy entered the property and removed the tarp from the bike, identified it and arrested the owner when they attempted to use the bike.

The property was the home of the suspect's girlfriend. While the suspect claimed to own the motorcycle, they did not have a title. The sheriff's office chose to press charges of receiving stolen goods.

Virginia says no search warrant needed

The deputy did not have a warrant and was not invited onto the property. Nonetheless, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled to allow the arrest because of probable cause so the officer did not need warrant.

Supreme Court overturns

The Supreme Court reversed the state court's decision based on the belief that the officer violated the curtilage (area around a home where personal home life extends).

It was the high court's opinion that cars have the exception because they are mobile and already rigorously regulated. "The rationales take into account 'the balance between the intrusion on an individual's Fourth Amendment interest in his vehicle and the governmental interests in an expedient search of that vehicle; they do not account for the distinct privacy interest in one's home or curtilage,'" Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote.

Interpretations of laws can vary

Those with questions or concerns about search of a vehicle by law enforcement may want to speak with an attorney. It can be helpful to use criminal defense attorney to help insure that the ruling is one that protects an individual's rights and upholds the letter of the law.

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