Your Call: Search, Warrantless Search or No Search?

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Collins v. Commonwealth, 790 S.E.2d 611 (Va. 2016), cert. granted sub nom Collins v. Virginia, No. 16-1027 (U.S. Sept. 28, 2017)

A motorcyclist on an orange and black Suzuki, modified for drag racing, eluded police on two occasions within a few weeks. During the second event, an officer abandoned the pursuit after the cyclist hit 140 miles per hour. Using dash-camera footage, the officer obtained a photo of the license plate and the rider. The rider’s face was obscured by a tinted helmet face shield.

Using the plate number, the officer contacted the most recent plate registrant, Eric Jones, who said that he had sold the bike to Ryan Collins.

Sometime later, the officer heard Collins’ name broadcast on the radio in connection with an unrelated matter (Collins was at the DMV, trying to register a stolen Acura sedan). Both officers who had chased the Suzuki responded to Collins’ location and spoke with him. Collins said that he didn’t know anything about the Suzuki and hadn’t ridden a motorcycle in many months. As the first officer was speaking with Collins, the other officer checked Facebook and found a picture of the Suzuki parked next to the same stolen Acura in the driveway of a house. Collins denied knowing anything about the bike or the house.

About an hour later, the officer found the house. He saw a motorcycle partially covered by a tarp. He could see the same distinctive chrome accents that were on the bike he had chased. The location and angle also appeared the same as the photo on Collins’ Facebook page. The officer walked a car length or two onto the property, lifted the tarp, and instantly recognized the Suzuki.

Collins was convicted of receiving stolen property and sentenced to prison. He argued that the officer made an illegal, warrantless search at his home.

• Was there a search?

• If so, was the warrantless search justified by an exception to the warrant requirement?

• Which exception and why does it apply here?

The U.S. Supreme Court recently agreed to consider Collins’ appeal. Stand by, and we’ll see whether your reasoning and conclusions match the justices of the high court.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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