Homes and Their Curtilage Have Fourth Amendment Protections

The United States Supreme Court recently issued a decision in Collins v. Virginia that confirmed that the area immediately surrounding a home (i.e., the curtilage) receives the same protection from searches and seizures as the home itself, even if an automobile or motorcycle is parked in the curtilage. 

The Fourth Amendment provides that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.”  These protections are heightened for homes, which also include their curtilage such as front porches, side gardens and areas outside the front window.

On the other hand, automobiles receive a lower degree of protection.  They may be searched without a warrant if, for example, the police have probable cause to believe a crime has been or is being committed.

In this case, a motorcycle was covered and located in a driveway that was immediately next to a house, enclosed by two walls about the height of a car and by a house with a door from the house to the driveway.  The officer believed that he had probable cause to believe the motorcycle was was involved in a crime, which would be enough to search a vehicle but not enough to search a home without a warrant.  Because the motorcycle was located in the curtilage of the home, an area immediately adjacent to the home where the defendant had a heightened privacy expectation, the automobile exception did not apply.  The curtilage is protected just as a living room would be.