Collins Versus Virginia

May 30, 2018

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Collins Versus Virginia

Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in a case titled Collins v. Virginia is already being misconstrued as a victory for motorcycle rights. It was not.

The American Motorcyclist Association, which filed an amicus brief in the case, probably didn’t clear the confusion when it headlined its press release about the decision “Supreme Court sides with motorcyclists’ rights in Virginia search case.” That headline could have used another draft.

The decision did reaffirm the constitutional rights of a particular motorcyclist named Ryan Collins. In practice, it really didn’t do anything to advance the rights of most motorcyclists. The Collins decision did, for the time being at least, slightly limit the use of “the automobile exception” to excuse the warrantless search of vehicles on private property that don’t happen to be in plain sight.

Warrantless Search

Police can still manufacture a pretext, like a traffic infraction, to stop your car, motorhome or motorcycle, use a trained dog to establish probable cause that there is contraband in your vehicle and conduct a roadside search. Police can still photograph a motorcycle parked in a public place and store the photographs or inspect any vehicle parked in a public place with the use of a trained dog (they are trained to “alert” on cue) or any technological device that might be available to them now or in the future. They can question you about your motorcycle, although you don’t have to talk to them. They can inspect and verify the legality of any identifying numbers on your vehicle. If you park your motorcycle in a public place and cover it the police can remove the cover and photograph the bike and check the legality of all its parts. Collins establishes that the police can’t do that on private property without a warrant. The Commonwealth of Virginia thought they could. That’s it.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is generally considered to be a liberal and who wrote the majority opinion, described the background of the case like this:

“During 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 exception.”


The United States Supreme Court overruled the state court, holding that: “The automobile exception does not permit the warrantless entry of a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein.” The “curtilage” of a house means the grounds and structures immediately surrounding your house including your detached garage, tool shed, lawn furniture and the old Chevy you might rebuild someday.

The “automobile exception” is one of six legal exceptions to the constitutional requirement for police to obtain a warrant from a judge before executing a search. The others are: A search incident to lawful arrest; the seizure of contraband or evidence in plain view; a consent search; a “Terry Stop” in which a cop can state a reason why he thinks you committed a crime and he also has a reasonable fear you may be armed; and a “hot pursuit” emergency in which a policeman sees a suspect fleeing from the scene of a crime with evidence of that crime.

The automobile exception is a relic of prohibition before police cars had two-way radios and it was aimed at bootleggers. In 1925, in a case titled Carroll v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that evidence found during a warrantless search could be used by prosecutors under certain circumstances. Case law on the automobile exception is full of quirks. For example, a parked RV can’t be searched without a warrant. But as soon as it moves onto a highway the same vehicle becomes subject to a warrantless search as long as the cop can convince a judge that his suspicion that “probable cause” existed was “reasonable.

In Collins, Virginia argued “that the automobile exception is a categorical one that permits the warrantless search of a vehicle anytime, anywhere, including in a home or curtilage.”

The line the Supreme Court drew yesterday was a line around the immediate area of someone’s home that protects everything within it even motor vehicles.

Alito’s Dissent

The lone dissenting Justice was Samuel Alito, a graduate of Princeton and Yale and a George W. Bush appointee who is widely considered to be “one of the most conservative justices on the Court.” Alito believe it is a policeman’s right to cross lines.

“The Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable’ searches,” Alito fumed. “What the police did in this case was entirely reasonable. The Court’s decision is not.”

“Why does the Court come to the conclusion that Officer Rhodes needed a warrant in this case? Because, in order to reach the motorcycle, he had to walk 30 feet or soup the driveway of the house rented by petitioner’s girlfriend, and by doing that, Rhodes invaded the home’s ‘curtilage.’ The Court does not dispute that the motorcycle, when parked in the driveway, was just as mobile as it would have been had it been parked at the curb. Nor does the Court claim that Officer Rhodes’s short walk up the driveway did petitioner or his girlfriend any harm. Rhodes did not damage any property or observe anything along the way that he could not have seen from the street. But, the Court insists, Rhodes could not enter the driveway without a warrant, and therefore his search of the motorcycle was unreasonable and the evidence obtained in that search must be suppressed.

“An ordinary person of common sense would react to the Court’s decision the way Mr. Bumble famously responded when told about a legal rule that did not comport with the reality of everyday life. If that is the law, he exclaimed, ‘the law is a ass – a idiot.”


15 Responses to “Collins Versus Virginia”

  1. david Says:

    So-called “authority” is the main issue, and some pigs’ “authority” over and above someone else, is the main point and burning question.

    In nature, not one person has ANY fucking authority over anyone else.

    In “law” (read:mans’ bullshit rules), certain men made a self-determined bull-shit decision to be above,and over,every other man. And in “law” the fake “authority” has to be,and is,imposed by FORCE. And to get the vast majority fooled into THINKING, and believing, the contrary to nature lie, the pigs of all types have to solidify the years of social, school, and most importantly, radio, TV and motion picture propaganda, by continually approaching, detaining, beating and killing the general population into obedience, while wearing impressive to most people,COSTUMES. To a pig, the only people that do not “have to obey”, is a dead one.

    Royalty wears costumes, religious wear costumes and so-called judges also wear a fucking costume. Pigs have the additional tin badge.

  2. Drifter Says:

    Randog typed, ” Moral: don’t do illegal stuff.” This means nothing, flat foot attack when they feel like it. Plenty of folks have been hurt or killed while doing nothing, but facing the new age para-pig. Donald Scott comes to mind, of one that was doing nothing. He was murdered by out of jurisdiction la county sheriffs, in his Ventura county home, because some pen pushing pig thought they could steal his land, based on a snitch saying he was carrying large amounts of cash, so hey, he must be into DRUGS. He wasn’t, a pig (la sheriff swat, and other oath breaking agencies ambushed the residence) blew him to pieces after breaking into his house while he reportedly held his weapon over his head after just waking up.

    A Ventura county DA, Michael Bradbury, actually had some serious balls (maybe more ego about the operation being in his county and he knew nothing of it before it happened, than compassion?) and told the la county pigs, and the California AG they were full of shit about the raid, and it was about seizure forfeiture. He was right.

    One current obvious issue about people not doing anything illegal, but being attacked for, carrying cash. Cause, must be a drug dealer, so let’s steal it and make them prove it.

    Avoid the pigs like the plague!!!!!!!!!

  3. bcnasty Says:

    reasons for search, dirty license plate, could not see your inspection sticker, you changed lanes with out a signal and my all time favorite, ” I followed you for the past two miles driving erratically ” LMAO that one went bad fast. Normally do not get pissed but that one I had to respond bullshit, you do not think I can smell your ass.

  4. Kenny Says:

    A old story. Ill shorten it, Me and a brother get pulled over. Both of us been to prison so we aint impressed. Cop goes on and on about wanting to look in my brothers saddlebag…He says fuck no get a warrent! This goes on and on. Now knowing this brother I have no idea whats in there but its probley bad…This is before cell phones. So i sit and watch the show. Well they get a warrent…,But just about the time it gets there 2 1/2 hours we sat. My brother says hey u wanna c ok open it and see!!!He unlocks the bag!!!!! And the orficer pulls out a fucking Iron. My brother breaks out in the biggest grin!! Says he never leaves home without his Iron. Morrel of the story fuckem u are suposed to be not guilty until proven guilty. Not by some flatfoot who thinks he is Elliot Ness! Do not think that this cop is your friend! Everything u say can and will be used against u! Respect to those that respect

  5. Penguin Says:

    Stroker’s story is an especially egregious example of a common crooked scheme…

    Shakedowns happen. It’s happened to me in Clear Lake and elsewhere. Sometimes it’s out front, as in Stroker’s example. Other times, and more often in my experience, it’s a totally bogus traffic ticket. Such as following too closely on an empty highway…yeah, it happened in Little Lake Ca. And near Laramie, and…oh well…

    I recall a bumper sticker from the 60’s “Support Your Local Police, Bribe a Cop Today”. That said, sometimes the Man is fair, or even decent and kind. I do not ever know what to expect from cops, but they got guns and I’m too old for gunfights…so I try hard to be soft spoken and polite, especially when I am inclined otherwise…

    Crooked cops? Ah, but I repeat myself! (WC Fields, as I recall…)

    Bad Elk example is a million years ago…
    United States Supreme Court
    JOHN BAD ELK v. U S, (1900)
    No. 350
    Argued: Decided: April 30, 1900

    Bad Elk has a story…good reading.

    Those days are long gone…

  6. RIDER 1 Says:

    I have had the cooperate with a search or not argument many times. Everyone says if they pull you over, make them get a search warrant to search your saddle bags. Folks say that if you cooperate, it just makes the next guy who gets pulled over look more suspicious when he makes them get a search warrant. I understand their point of view. Personally, I don’t carry anything illegal so I let them go ahead and look. Everytime I have been pulled over I had somewhere to be and didn’t have hours to hang out on freeway shoulder.

    RIDER 1

  7. stroker Says:

    I’ve posted this story on Rebel’s page before, but because I think it’s pertinent to this article, I will re-post it (condensed) for any new readers.

    1997 Sturgis. My club and I pulled through a little town called Belle Fourche, SD. It’s sorta a back door into Sturgis. NOT back door enough this time. As the pack of 25 riders cleared the one town 4-way stop, my Road captain came up and said the cops had pulled over the van. The van had all our camping gear, extra parts, clothes, etc. What it did NOT have was any drugs. We knew. We’ve been to Sturgis many times before. If the cops find any illegal drugs in or on your vehicle, they will impound the vehicle. We were very scrupulous about no drugs in the van. As the van was in my name, I went back to see what was up. The LEOS had the driver hand-cuffed 20 feet away from the van, in the 100 degree sun. As I approached, and after I was warned not to, but came up anyway (“It’s my fucking van occifer….!”)….I was told they were going to bring in the dogs. I asked them why, was told “It’s just how we do things!” I stood back and watched as the dog went through the van, around the van, under the van. Not once did the dog alert. Imagine my surprise when the cop called me over and said “We found two buds of maryjane in the van.” I said “BULLSHIT! There ain’t no drugs in that va……” He cut me off, saying:
    “Here’s how it works: we found pot in your van (no, he didn’t display said pot!). If you give us the $200. fine right now, IN CASH, we’ll let you and the van go. You wanna argue, the van goes to impound, you and the driver to jail.

    I forked over $200.

    He let us go.

    Price of doing business in Sturgis.

    Point being, the law is as Sieg and Gooch said. It’s whatever the cop says it is, at that moment, at that time. You wanna argue? Go ahead. See how that works for ya.

    Click the links for Rebel

  8. Sieg Says:

    Gooch pretty much nailed it.

    You have no “rights”. You have exactly what the pig wants to give you at that moment, period. Wake up.

    I see these little cards being handed out, “Officer, I don’t consent to a search, I…” See, that’s how far you’d get any place I ever lived. Then you’d get your ass handed to you before you got locked up.


  9. Randog Says:

    What an interesting case. Wakefield Professor ‘If it is a vehicle and the government, the government will likely win’. Moral: don’t do illegal stuff. Park on private property. Cover you vehicle or garage. Do not park on the street. Warrantless search on private property – three Virginia courts said yes, court, appeals and supreme. Took the US Supreme Court to say “No!”. Scary. Vehicle law – over 50% of citizen – law enforcement interaction is in vehicles, recent law – really 1920’s and after, no history to base on. Vehicles were not an issue in the 1850’s, 1900’s. Aging Rebel – love how you break down and explain law, biker culture, and the research you do into legal actions. Your coverage of Waco has been phenomenal! Paladin and Freebird, always enjoy your insights and opinions.

    BTW – the vehicle law would apply to all bikers and bikes. Pay attention.

  10. Penguin Says:

    Rights are whatever the Man sez, and whenever he sez… Search illegal? OK! Next time we’ll simply shoot in “self-defense”. Right…

    The Man with a gun pointed at your belly also has radio link that can call up hundreds more… Tank if they want, whatever they got..

    You either cooperate or, well… You get the idea. Man with gun makes rules.

    I hear cops say they want “respect”.

    Pointing gun makes this impossible…

    They point guns at anybody, it is their reason to exist – to create Tension and Fear.

    Hint: Man with gun makes rules.

  11. Phuquehed Says:

    In this case and any others where Alito wants the pigs to be able to get away with what they want – fuck him and the ostrich he rode in on!

  12. Gooch Says:

    Fuck the police, Fuck the police . .they will find a way around every rule. Pull your goddamn ass over right now!
    “Aww shit, now, what the fuck you pulling me over for?”
    ‘Cause I feel like it! Rebel On ~ Gooch

  13. TX_Biker Says:

    A couple years ago I was on my way home from picking up breakfast and was stopped by DPS because my saddle bag was open and flopping around in the wind. The trooper took the liberty to look in my bag without my permission. I left him laughing there on the side of the road. All I had in the bag was a half a dozen donuts. Guess he could smell them cause the bag was open…

  14. freebird Says:

    Another thing that caught my attention is they also remanded it back for further proceeding. Kind of like dismissed without prejudice…. leaving the door open to find another way to circumvent the law!

  15. Paladin Says:

    “The decision did reaffirm the constitutional rights of a particular motorcyclist named Ryan Collins. In practice, it really didn’t do anything to advance the rights of most motorcyclists.”

    The Supreme Court decision reaffirmed not only the Constitutional rights of Collins’ but of all citizens against unlawful search and seizures on private property as well as reafirming what is considered the “in plain view rule” as it relates to search and seizures.

    “Case law on the automobile exception is full of quirks. For example, a parked RV can’t be searched without a warrant. But as soon as it moves onto a highway the same vehicle becomes subject to a warrantless search as long as the cop can convince a judge that his suspicion that “probable cause” existed was “reasonable.”

    The above example is flawed and not a quirk. The above exception only applies to a motor home, camper, trailer or other vehicle designed as a dwelling when parked and when not operating as a motor vehicle or being towed by a motor vehicle on a road or highway. An RV (recreational vehicle) can be any vehicle used for recreational purposes. Such as: a dune buggy, motorcycle quad runner snow mobile etc.

    I think the Supreme Court decision in this case is of a greater significance than as reported in the the first three paragraphs of your article.


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