Cars Parked in Driveways Entitled to Privacy Protections, Says US Supreme Court

From the L.A. Times:

The Supreme Court on Tuesday extended the Constitution’s privacy protection to include vehicles that are parked on a home’s driveway or carport, ruling that police need a search warrant before they may inspect them.

In general, police may look closely at cars that are parked along public roads, without the need for a search warrant.

But in Tuesday’s 8-1 ruling, the justices said a vehicle parked in a carport or on private property adjacent to a home deserves the privacy protection of the 4th Amendment.

“When a law enforcement officer physically intrudes” on private property and walks up to a house to look for evidence, “a search within the meaning of the 4th Amendment has occurred,” wrote Justice Sonia Sotomayor in Collins vs. Virginia. “Such conduct thus is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.”

Tuesday’s ruling closely tracks a decision in 2013 when the court ruled that police may not bring a drug-sniffing dog to the front porch of a home without a search warrant. In both instances, the justices said the 4th Amendment gives its greatest protection for homes and the private property surrounding them.

The court ruled in favor of Ryan Collins, a Virginia man who was convicted of stealing a motorcycle. Two officers in Albemarle County were in search of a distinctive orange-and-black-colored cycle they had seen speeding. After doing some research on Facebook, they saw Collins had posted a photograph of the cycle.

One officer stopped at the house where Collins was living and saw from the street what looked to be a motorcycle under a tarp. It was next to the house. The officer walked up the driveway, lifted the tarp and took several photos of the cycle. Collins was arrested and convicted.

The Virginia courts rejected his claim that the search was unconstitutional, citing the automobile exception to the 4th Amendment. In defending the conviction, the state’s lawyers agreed an officer may not enter a closed garage, but they argued there was no such bar on checking a vehicle in plain sight on the property.

The Supreme Court disagreed with both the state’s courts, and the state’s fallback legal position about plain sight.

U.S. Supreme Court issues split decision in DUI refusal cases

Today the United States Supreme Court issued its Opinion in three consolidated cases that dealt with states that criminalize anyone who is arrested for a DUI and refuses to submit to a blood or breath test (Birchfield v. North Dakota).

The short version of it is that the Court did not find a problem with state laws that make it a crime to refuse a breath test.  The Court found that a breath test falls within the right of law enforcement to conduct a search subject to arrest and that one’s right to bodily integrity or to avoid self-incrimination were not significantly affected enough to overcome this.

However, the Court found that blood tests are a significant invasion of one’s right to bodily integrity and privacy, and that states could not require warrantless blood draws in DUI cases, except in exceptional circumstances.

Currently, Illinois does not criminalize breath test refusals, however, it does impose a license suspension of one year for first offenders and three years for repeat offenders who refuse to submit to breath, blood or urine testing subsequent to a DUI arrest.  However, now that the Supreme Court has ruled that it is permissible, perhaps that will change.

Personally, I feel that it is deep within our traditions to say no to government, to insist on our bodily integrity, to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures and to have the right to refuse to provide evidence that may incriminate ourselves.  I feel that this opinion, like so many when it comes to DUI, ignores our legal history and tradition, and ignores the important Constitutional protections that makes America the freest nation in the world, merely to make it easier to convict DUI defendants.  This approach is short-sighted.  I hope that our Illinois legislators don’t take this opportunity to further chip away out our freedom and liberty.

Oral Arguments tomorrow in US Supreme Court over Warrantless blood draws

Tomorrow, Wednesday, January 9, 2013, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a Missouri case that concerns the issue of whether police can forcibly take a blood sample from you, without a warrant or court order, based solely on the officer’s suspicion that you have been driving while intoxicated.

In the meantime, here is a link to an op-ed piece in the N.Y. Times, by Lincoln Caplan, arguing that a ruling in favor of the police “will diminish constitutional rights without increasing public safety in any meaningful way.”

Update:  here is an argument preview by Lyle Denniston for SCOTUSBLOG.

Listen to Day 1 of the Supreme Court arguments on the Health Care Reform

Here is the link to listen and/or download the audio or get transcripts of today’s oral arguments in Department of Health and Human Services v. Florida, or what is commonly referred to as the lawsuits over Health Care reform, also known as “Obamacare.”