ANALYSIS OF MARCH 28, 2019 SUPREME COURT OPINION
(Posted March 28, 2019) While most of America is focused on the national holiday today, the Robes in Richmond give us one published opinion and two published orders today. Because of my travels, I’ve had limited time to address today’s rulings. I’ll post some limited commentary on the opinion here, and will go back and add more detail (including on the orders) next week.
What do you mean, “What holiday?” It’s Opening Day. Life begins again today. Be happy.
We’ve seen Collins v. Commonwealth before; this is the case involving the driveway search of a motorcycle that had pointedly eluded police in high-speed chases. An officer saw what he thought was the suspect bike covered by a tarp in a driveway, so he walked a few feet onto the property, lifted the tarp, and took a peek. The Court of Appeals and Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the conviction, but SCOTUS reversed and remanded, holding that the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment doesn’t permit a warrantless search of a motorcycle in the curtilage of private property.
The Folks at One First Street directed our justices to reexamine the case to determine among other things whether exigent circumstances justified the search. Today a fractured court, in three opinions, rules that the search was permitted under a different exception: the officer’s good faith.
Here’s the lineup of votes today: Justice Kelsey, joined by Justices Goodwyn and Powell, believe that the good-faith exception alone wins the case for the prosecution. Justice Kelsey also agrees with today’s concurrence, written by Justice McClanahan and joined by the chief justice, and would add the exigent-circumstance exception to good faith to affirm the conviction on two grounds. Justice Mims dissents, joined by Justice Koontz; they believe that neither exception justified the search.
Since the only holding that commands four or more votes is the good-faith exception, that’s the official ruling of the court; only three justices found exigent circumstances, so Collins wins what may turn out to be a meaningless victory on that issue.
As promised, I’ll add more detail next week.