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Cars on private property are protected from unwarranted searches

When law enforcement officers want to inspect a vehicle on private property in Washington, they will need to get a search warrant. The Supreme Court of the United States has affirmed this protection in a recent 8-1 ruling with only Justice Samuel Alito dissenting.

In this case, the Supreme Court overruled three previous lower court decisions. The issue arose from a police officer who suspected that a stolen motorcycle was located at the end of a private driveway. The officer entered the property and then arrested the man who lived there when he arrived home.

Multiple cases before the Supreme Court in recent years have addressed privacy, and the justices have repeatedly chosen to grant Fourth Amendment protection. One ruling barred law enforcement from searching cellphones or tracking vehicles with GPS without a warrant.

Motor vehicles are generally exempt from Fourth Amendment prohibitions on searches without a warrant because of their mobility, but Justice Sonia Sotomayor, writing for the majority, reasoned that a vehicle located on private property qualified for protection. The police officer's suspicions about the motorcycle did not justify entering a home or its surrounding yard without a warrant. Privacy even remained the justices' priority in a case where law enforcement found 49 bricks of heroin in a rental car.

Violations of the Fourth Amendment could disqualify evidence obtained through an unlawful search from use in a criminal case. A person facing prosecution could consult an attorney to explore possible strategies for a criminal defense. Legal counsel might inspect the actions of law enforcement to determine if they violated the client's rights. A legal analysis could reveal the strength of the prosecution's case and help the defendant make an informed decision when choosing between a plea bargain or trial.

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