January 12, 2018
McGuireWoods partner Matt Fitzgerald was featured in national media coverage of the Jan. 9 oral arguments in Collins v. Virginia, a U.S. Supreme Court case that could clarify the automobile exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.
The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, NPR and Courthouse News Service quoted from Fitzgerald’s argument in their coverage. The widely read SCOTUSblog also quoted Fitzgerald in a story and analysis. The Associated Press, USA Today, Reuters, Law360 and the Washington Examiner are among other outlets that published stories on oral arguments in the case.
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. Charged with possession of stolen property, Collins argued that the evidence should be suppressed because it was obtained through a warrantless search on private property.
The state of Virginia took the position that an officer can “search a vehicle anywhere that he finds it and [that he] may go anywhere he needs to in order to access that vehicle,” Fitzgerald told the justices, according to The Washington Post’s account.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Fitzgerald argued the rationale for the automobile exception — that vehicles can be quickly moved and that individuals should not expect less privacy as motorists — is not relevant to a covered motorcycle on private property. The motorcycle “is not any more readily mobile than things that require a warrant, such as illegal drugs,” he said.
NPR’s story noted that Fitzgerald “stuck to his guns” when pressed by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who asked Fitzgerald if he thought the “ease of moving [the vehicle] is irrelevant to this case.”
“Yes,” Fitzgerald replied.
The McGuireWoods team also includes Richmond associates Travis Gunn and Brian Schmalzbach. Fitzgerald and Schmalzbach are former U.S. Supreme Court clerks for Justice Clarence Thomas, and Gunn is a former Virginia Supreme Court clerk.
Fitzgerald also was quoted in stories by AP, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Virginia Lawyers Weekly previewing oral arguments in the case.