Does the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception permit a police officer without a warrant to enter private property in order to search a vehicle parked a few feet from the house?1
A unique motorcycle was observed by police as speeding as fast at 140mph. Using Facebook, the officers found a photo of the motorcycle parked at a particular house with a carport. When they arrived at the house, they noticed a motorcycle looking object covered with a tarp in the car port. They removed the tarp, and saw that the license plate matched the one they were looking for.
The defendant was eventually charged with the knowing possession of stolen property, but at trial, the defendant wanted to suppress the search of the motorcycle because it was a search without a warrant in the home’s curtilage.
The curtilage is the area close to the house that is treated as the home for Fourth Amendment purposes. Normally, you cannot search the home or curtilage without a warrant. However, the Fourth Amendment has automobile exception. The idea is that because a car is easily movable, police don’t have time to wait for a warrant and they can search a car on probable cause alone. You cannot do this with the home without an emergency circumstance.