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Unregistered Vehicle on Private Property In Virginia

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November 22, 2023 by Tom Roberts, Esq.

Can the City remove my inoperable vehicle from my yard?

There is no reasonable expectation of privacy if exposed to public view.

The Virginia Supreme Court reiterated in Collins v. Commonwealth, 297 Va. 207, 225-226 (2019), that “there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a vehicle parked on private property yet exposed to public view.” The court upheld the search without any discussion of whether the parked car had been located within the curtilage of the home. The U.S. Fourth Circuit reached a similar conclusion in United States v. Brookins, 345 F.3d 231, 237-38 & n.8 (4th Cir. 2003)

The 4th Amendment applies to searches and abatement of suspected nuisances – like unregistered vehicles.

The Fourth Amendment permits reasonable warrantless seizures as well as reasonable warrantless searches, so long as a recognized exception to the warrant requirement applies. See G.M. Leasing Corp. v. United States, 429 U.S. 338, 351-52, 97 S. Ct. 619, 50 L. Ed. 2d 530 (1977);Tarantino v. Syputo, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36100, *14 (NC)

The warrant requirement of the fourth amendment applies to entries onto private land to search for and abate suspected nuisances. Michigan v. Tyler, 436 U.S. 499, 504-07, 56 L. Ed. 2d 486, 98 S. Ct. 1942 (1978); Camara v. Municipal Court, 387 U.S. 523, 530, 87 S. Ct. 1727, 18 L. Ed. 2d 930 (1967).

Exception – “Open Fields Doctrine” – 4 factors

Under the open fields doctrine, a court must determine whether the area of the seizure was within the curtilage of the home.  The Supreme Court provided a four-factor test for determining the scope of the curtilage in United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 301-02 (1987): (1) the nature and use of the area; (2) the proximity of the area to the home; (3) whether the area is enclosed; (4) whether steps were taken to protect the area from observation. 

In determining whether your car on your driveway area at issue is within the curtilage of your home, it is helpful to examine the seizure in Conner v. Santa Ana, 897 F.2d 1487 (9th Cir. 1990). In Conner, the offending vehicles were removed from the plaintiffs’ backyard, which was surrounded by a fence. Conner, 897 F.2d at 1489. In order to remove the vehicles, the police officers “broke down the fence surrounding the Conner property and removed two of the vehicles from the property.” Id. The Conner court found that the seizure violated the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights.  Id.  Tarantino v. Syputo, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36100, *15-16

Disclaimer

The materials are prepared for information purposes only.  The materials are not legal advice.  You should not act upon the information without seeking the advice of an attorney.  Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship.


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