McGuireWoods partner Matt Fitzgerald was quoted in stories by the Associated Press, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Virginia Lawyers Weekly and Law360 previewing oral arguments in a U.S. Supreme Court case that could clarify the automobile search exception to the warrant requirement in the Fourth Amendment. Fitzgerald will argue the case for the appellant in Collins v. Virginia on Jan. 9.
McGuireWoods took on the appeal pro bono after the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in 2016 that a police officer, who entered private property without the owner’s permission or a warrant to search a motorcycle parked near a house and secured under a fitted motorcycle cover, acted properly under the automobile exception.
In the Times-Dispatch story, which was published on the newspaper’s front page on Jan. 2, Fitzgerald described the case as “a clash between two Fourth Amendment interests.” While police “generally need a warrant to come into your house or come into the area around your house,” he said, courts have recognized an exception to the warrant requirement for automobiles in certain circumstances.
“This case brings those two together and (asks), ‘Well, what about vehicles that are right around your house?’ Like, in a garage or in a carport or, in this case, this sort of parking patio that’s right up against the side of the house?” Fitzgerald said.
He told Virginia Lawyers Weekly: “If the state wins, the police can search a vehicle anywhere they find it, without a warrant, even in your garage.”
A Jan. 5 Law360 story summarizing arguments in upcoming cases to be heard by the high court included details about the Collins case, quoting from Collins’ petition that “if officers can intrude upon curtilage to search a vehicle, there is no reason why they could not walk through a house to reach a car in the backyard.”
And a Jan. 9 Associated Press story quoted Fitzgerald. He commented, “If the vehicle exception applies wherever you find the vehicle, then that is a big hole in the warrant requirement.”