Warrantless vehicle searches near homes limited

By Mark Sherman
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court is putting limits on the ability of police to search vehicles when they do not have a search warrant.

The court sided 8-1 Tuesday with a Virginia man who complained that police walked onto his driveway and pulled back a tarp covering his motorcycle, which turned out to be stolen. They acted without a warrant, relying on a line of Supreme Court cases generally allowing police to search a vehicle without a warrant.

The justices said the automobile exception does not apply when searching vehicles parked adjacent to a home.

The court ruled in the case of Ryan Collins, who was arrested at the home of his girlfriend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Collins had twice eluded police in high-speed chases in which he rode an orange and black motorcycle.

The authorities used Collins’ Facebook page to eventually track the motorcycle to his girlfriend’s home.

Collins argued that police improperly entered private property uninvited and without a warrant.

Virginia’s Supreme Court said the case involved what the Supreme Court has called the “automobile exception,” which generally allows police to search a vehicle without a warrant if they believe the vehicle contains contraband.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said for the court Tuesday that the state court was wrong. Sotomayor said that constitutional protections for a person’s home and the area surrounding it, the curtilage, outweigh the police interest in conducting a vehicle search without a warrant.

“We decline Virginia’s invitation to extend the automobile exception to permit a warrantless intrusion on a home or its curtilage,” Sotomayor wrote.

Collins is not out of the woods, however. A separate legal doctrine allows warrantless searches in “exigent circumstances,” including whether the evidence — in this case, the motorcycle — might disappear if not looked for quickly. The justices ordered Virginia courts to consider that issue.

Justice Samuel Alito dissented, saying the police acted reasonably. “If the motorcycle had been parked at the curb, instead of in the driveway, it is undisputed that Rhodes could have searched it without obtaining a warrant,” Alito said, referencing the officer who pulled back the tarp.

Justice Clarence Thomas voted with the majority, but he wrote separately to question whether the Supreme Court has the authority to require states to suppress incriminating evidence that was acquired in violation of the Constitution. Thomas said that telling states they must apply the so-called federal exclusionary rule “is legally dubious.”

The case is Collins v. Virginia, 16-1027.


Justices allow Arkansas to enforce abortion restrictions

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court on Tuesday allowed Arkansas to enforce restrictions on how so-called abortion pills can be administered while a legal challenge to the restrictions proceeds, which critics say effectively ends that option for women in the state.

The justices didn’t comment in rejecting an appeal from the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Arkansas that asked the court to review an appeals court ruling and reinstate a lower court order that had blocked the law from taking effect.

The law says doctors who provide abortion pills must hold a contract with another physician who has admitting privileges at a hospital and who would agree to handle complications — and Planned Parenthood says it has been unable to find any able to do so.

The law is similar to a provision in Texas law that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the court order barring enforcement of the law, but put its ruling on hold while Planned Parenthood appealed to the Supreme Court.

The legal fight over the restrictions isn’t over, but the state is now free to enforce them for the time being.

“As Attorney General, I have fully defended this law at every turn and applaud the Supreme Court’s decision against Planned Parenthood today,” Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, a Republican, said in a statement. “Protecting the health and well-being of women and the unborn will always be a priority. We are a pro-life state and always will be as long as I am attorney general.”

Planned Parenthood had offered pills to end pregnancies at its clinics in Fayetteville and Little Rock, but it said Tuesday that it was notifying patients that it could no longer do so because of the ruling. It said it would move quickly for emergency relief in the lower court, saying the ruling effectively makes Arkansas the first state in the country to ban medication abortions.

Planned Parenthood has said it’s unable to find any Arkansas obstetricians willing to handle hospital admissions, saying many doctors cited a fear of being harassed over an association with an abortion provider, objections from employers or a personal opposition to abortion.

The group has said that if the law stands, Arkansas would be the only state where women would not have access to a pair of drugs that end pregnancies: mifepristone, which makes it difficult for a fetus to attach to the uterine wall, and misoprostol, which causes the body to expel it, similar to a miscarriage.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer surgical abortions at its Arkansas health centers, but a third facility in Little Rock that isn’t operated by the group does. The organizations says preventing women from obtaining medication abortions creates an undue burden, which is the standard the Supreme Court has set to measure whether restrictions go too far in limiting women who want the procedure.

“This dangerous law also immediately ends access to safe, legal abortion at all but one health center in the state,” Dawn Laguens, vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement. “If that’s not an undue burden, what is? This law cannot and must not stand. We will not stop fighting for every person’s right to access safe, legal abortion.”

The state had argued that the restriction was needed to protect women from any complications from the abortion pills. But Planned Parenthood argued that such complications are rare, and that those complications can be handled by hospitals without contacting the group’s physicians.

The 2015 law is among several abortion restrictions the predominantly Republican state has enacted over the past several years that have been the subject of legal challenges.


Associated Press writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report from Little Rock, Arkansas.


Inmate’s appeal  in slaying of three rejected

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined the appeal of an Ohio inmate who has long maintained his innocence in the 1994 slaying of three people.

The court’s Tuesday decision involves the case of Kevin Keith. He is serving a life sentence for killing two women and a 4-year-old girl in what prosecutors said was retaliation for his arrest in a drug sweep.

Lawyers for Keith say the personnel file of a state forensics investigator who worked on his case contains allegations she had a habit of providing police departments answers they wanted in cases.

Attorneys for the 54-year-old Keith, who is black, also say the file shows the investigator used racial slurs against co-workers.

Prosecutors say there’s no evidence the file would have made a difference at trial.