Tag Archives: warrant

Supreme Court declines to extend automobile exception to Fourth Amendment to vehicles parked in driveways or curtilage of home.

In yet another victory for Fourth Amendment advocates, the Supreme Court on May 29, 2018 ruled against a warrantless search and examination of motorcycle under a tarp in the driveway of a home.   In the matter of Ryan Austin Collins vs. Virginia, No. 16-1027, the Court in a 8-1 decision reversed the lower court’s decision which upheld a warrantless search of motorcycle under the so-called automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment.

An orange and black motorcycle was believed to have been stolen and in the possession of Mr. Collins. Apparently Mr. Collins was proud of his accomplishment and posted photos of the stolen motorcycle parked in his driveway on his Facebook profile. The police discovered the photos on Mr. Collins’ Facebook profile, drove to his house and observed what appeared to be the motorcycle under a tarp parked in Mr. Collin’s driveway. The arresting police officer acting without a search warrant, walked to the top of the driveway, removed the tarp, confirmed that it was the stolen motorcycle, returned the tarp, and waited for Mr. Collins to return.

Upon his return Mr. Collins was arrested and charged with receiving stolen property. At trial, Mr. Collins sought to suppress the evidence on the grounds that the police had violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they had trespassed on Mr. Collins’s house curtilage (driveway) to conduct a warrantless search. Mr. Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property. The conviction was affirmed by the Virginia Court of Appeals who found “numerous exigencies justified both the entry onto the property and the moving of the tarp to view the motorcycle and record its identification number.” The Virginia Supreme Court also affirmed the conviction holding that the warrantless search was justified under the so-called automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment. The State Supreme Court held that the police officer had probable cause to believe that the motorcycle was contraband, and that the warrantless search was justified.

The central question before the Supreme Court was whether the so-called automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment, which allows the police certain latitude to search vehicles on public streets without a warrant, also allows the police to walk up a driveway without a warrant and search a vehicle parked in the area near a house.

The so-called automobile exception, first articulated in Carroll v. United States, 267 U.S. 132 (1925), allows police to search a car without a warrant if the car is “readily mobile” and they have probable cause to believe that it contains evidence of a crime.

The Court began its Fourth Amendment discussion by examining the intersecting case law of the so-called automobile exception to the warrant requirement with case law extending the protection against warrantless searches to the curtilage of a home. The “curtilage” of a home being the area immediately surrounding the house, where residents expect privacy.

In its near unanimous opinion written by Justus Sonia Sotomayor, the Court held that the driveway where Mr. Collins’ motorcycle was parked was part of the curtilage protected by the Fourth Amendment. Justice Sotomayor further wrote, “To allow an officer to rely on the automobile exception to gain entry to a house or its curtilage for the purpose of conducting a vehicle search would unmoor the exception from its justifications, render hollow the Fourth Amendment protection the Constitution extends to the house and its curtilage, and transform what was meant to be an exception into a tool with far broader application,”

The court explained that the justification for the automobile exception doesn’t consider a resident’s privacy interest in his home and its curtilage at all; rather, the rationale rests on the twin ideas that cars can easily be moved and are subject to regulation simply by virtue of being on the roads.

The stated that there are no Supreme Court’s cases that indicates the automobile exception allows a police officer to enter the home or its curtilage without a warrant to search a vehicle – if anything, the court has emphasized the need to treat “automobiles differently from houses.”

The sole dissent in the case was filed by Justice Samuel Alito, who stated that “The Fourth Amendment prohibits ‘unreasonable’ searches,” and that, “What the police did in this case was entirely reasonable.”

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Filed under Constitutional Law, Uncategorized

OSHA Inspector’s Warrant Request DENIED

09/02/2016

One of the most common questions asked about OSHA Inspections is, “Do I have to let them in my business?” My short answer has always been – No you do not, but it is often advisable that you do so.

It is within your rights as a business owner to require that OSHA inspectors present a Warrant to enter your premises. However, history shows that OSHA is almost always granted a warrant. Furthermore, requiring a warrant usually only serves to alienate you from the inspectors and heighten their suspicion that you are hiding something.

A Magistrate Judge from the Georgia’s Northern District has decided that this is not necessarily an acceptable practice.  Magistrate Judge J. Clay Fuller held that OSHA needed to establish “probable cause” before they could obtain an expanded warrant to search a poultry plant.  The case arose when OSHA responded to a worker complaint and injury report at a poultry plant. OSHA has an obligation to respond to injury reports and this obligation is expressed to the extent that if an OSHA inspector is driving by a business and sees an ambulance in the parking lot they are expected to stop and at least briefly investigate the reason for the ambulance. Traditionally however, once an OSHA inspector is on site they will begin an inspection that far exceeds the area and scope of the injury or complaint that brought them there.

What does that mean exactly? An example – Business A reports an employee was injured by a garage door that fell and broke the leg of an employee while shooting a commercial.  OSHA shows up to investigate but rather than just inspect the area where the accident happens they inspect every corner of the facility, questioning employees who were not present or involved in the reported incident.  The OSHA inspector finds that the employer was not at fault for the injury that was reported, but fines the employer $40,000 for violations that are unrelated and which had resulted in no injuries.

The folks at the Mar-Jac Poultry Company objected to exactly this expansive practice.  When OSHA arrived they showed the OSHA inspector where the incident occurred, but declined to allow the OSHA inspector to begin an unrestricted inspection of their facility without a warrant.

OSHA applied for a warrant stating that they had a Special Emphasis Program which instructed them to investigate multiple aspects of Poultry related businesses, many of these aspects are unrelated to the reported injury at the company in question.  Magistrate Judge Fuller has held that merely having a program targeting a group does not create probable cause to come and inspect that organization.  Judge Fuller stated that if OSHA did not have to show probable cause then, “[these inspections could] become tools of harassment.” Judge Fuller acknowledged that the injury which was reported did provide probable cause for OSHA to investigate some aspects of the business which were related to the incident but recommended that a warrant to justify an inspection beyond that point should be denied.

A particularly interesting point is that Judge Fuller stated that a worker complaint was not sufficient justification for an OSHA inspector to receive a warrant to just waltz in and perform a wall to wall and top to bottom inspection. This makes sense as in criminal cases warrants have to be very specifically tailored and generally judges frown on signing warrants for “fishing expeditions.” Yet, OSHA has historically been able to say to a Judge, “Look an employee complained so we need access to inspect every corner of the employer’s facility” and Judges have generally said, “Okay, have at it.”

This decision by Judge Fuller is a major win for Business owners and those concerned with an ever expansive government bureaucracy. However, the case is now before the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia who have the power to overturn Judge Fuller’s decision. We will provide updates as they become available.

If your business has had problems with OSHA or would like to know what you can do to protect yourself from OSHA inspections please contact our office at 888-313-0416.


Jonathan Moore is Prince Law Office’s in-house OSHA Consultant. He served as Manager of Corrective Actions and Director of Corporate Compliance for an Aerospace Manufacturing Company. He now attends law school at the Pennsylvania State University School of Law while working for Prince Law Offices.

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Filed under Business Law, Firearms Law, Marijuana Law, OSHA, Uncategorized, Workers' Compensation

Supreme Court Protects Rights and Requires States to Obtain Warrant in DUI Stops

On April 17, 2013, the United States Supreme Court decided a case that has implications throughout the country. The case, Missouri v. McNeely, was based on a motorist who was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving and arrested. McNeely refused to take a breath test, but was then taken to a local hospital for a blood test. The subsequent test revealed that he had a blood alcohol level of .15, and he was charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
McNeely moved to have the evidence suppressed, claiming that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision, ruled that absent extraordinary circumstances, law enforcement must obtain a search warrant before compelling a driver to submit to a blood test. It rejected the notion that officers must act freely (and without warrants) because valuable evidence (specifically alcohol in a driver’s blood) dissipates quickly. (A link to the decision is at the bottom of this post.)
Aside form the obvious benefits to individuals charged with DUI, there are even more protections the Court has inferred upon individuals. If the police take your blood or urine without obtaining a warrant and it is found that extraordinary conditions did not exist, the police may be liable to the individual in civil court for violations of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, commonly referred to as “section 1983” . This law provides, “Every person who under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, Suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress,…” In plain terms, an actor, working for the government is liable to the injured party when that actor deprived the individual of their rights.
Obviously, this change is important and every case or situation is different. If you or someone you know has been charged with a DUI/DWI, contact the Prince Law Firm immediately to protect your rights.

MISSOURI v. MCNEELY CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF MISSOURI
No. 11–1425. Argued January 9, 2013—Decided April 17, 2013

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