June 1, 2018

Supreme Court of the United States

Collins v. Virginia

No. 16-1027       5/29/18


Does the automobile exception to the warrant requirement allow entry into the curtilage of a home to search a vehicle?


No. The curtilage of the home is given the same protection as the home itself. A warrantless search of the home or its curtilage is presumptively unreasonable, with few exceptions. The scope of the automobile exception is limited to the vehicle itself. An officer must also have a lawful right of access to the vehicle to conduct the search. Read opinion.

Concurrence (Thomas, J.):

“I join the Court’s opinion because it correctly resolves the Fourth Amendment question in this case. Notably, the only reason that [the defendant] asked us to review this question is because, if he can prove a violation of the Fourth Amendment, our precedents require the Virginia courts to apply the exclusionary rule and potentially suppress the incriminating evidence against him. I write separately because I have serious doubts about this Court’s authority to impose that rule on the States. … We have not yet revisited that question in light of our modern precedents, which reject Mapp’s essential premise that the exclusionary rule is required by the Constitution. We should do so.” Read opinion.

Dissent (Alito, J.):

“The Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable’ searches. What the police did in this case was entirely reasonable.” Whether a search takes place in the curtilage of a house determines only whether the search is governed by the Fourth Amendment. It is irrelevant for any further analysis into the reasonableness of a warrantless search. The reasons behind the automobile exception still apply to a vehicle parked in the driveway of a house, and no further exigency is required to justify the search. Read opinion.


Application of this case will require prosecutors to get educated on what constitutes the “curtilage” of a home. This case will probably change the way prosecutors think about automobile searches when the automobile is parked in a driveway. For example, Keehn v. State, 279 S.W.3d 330 (Tex. Crim. App. 2009) upheld the search of a vehicle that was parked next to a residence. It is not clear whether Keehn is still good law after Collins. But do not read this case to prevent all searches of vehicles that are parked in driveways because not all parts of a driveway are part of a home’s “curtilage.” This case also dealt only with the “automobile exception.” It did not deal with any other “exigent circumstances” argument that could be made.


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Recent changes to to forensics accreditation requirements:

The Texas Forensic Science Commission has adopted amendments to 37 Tex. Admin. Code §651.5 and §651.7, which went into effect May 24. The changes add “crime scene reconstruction including bloodstain pattern analysis and trajectory determination” to the list of forensic disciplines exempt from accreditation requirements under Art. 38.35 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure. The change was needed to provide clarity to previously existing rules adopted by DPS. Under the previous rules, some courts were excluding bloodstain pattern analysis based on Art. 38.35, and some courts were admitting the same type of evidence. The accreditation exemption for bloodstain pattern analysis is intended to be temporary (for 15 months) to allow entities that perform this type of analysis the opportunity to obtain accreditation. To view the Commission’s hearing on bloodstain pattern analysis, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiWabgbOL9o