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Georgia Court Bans Police Driveway Snooping
Georgia Court of Appeals suppresses evidence after police entered a home driveway without permission to snoop inside a parked car.

Deonte Lovell Sims
If a police officer wants to snoop through the window of a vehicle lawfully parked in a private driveway, he needs probable cause to obtain a warrant. That was the conclusion of the Georgia Court of Appeals last week in considering the case of Treland Denard Jones, Ladairius M. Vickers, Takhiyra Dashun Turner and Deonte Lovell Sims, who were arrested for possessing a small amount of marijuana on December 4, 2014.

Gwinnett County police came upon the four vehicle occupants by accident. The officers had been serving a warrant on the home next door when they decided to have a look at the car parked next to the garage on Sims' property. A police sergeant walked up the driveway and said he could smell marijuana, but he could not see anything inside the car until he was close enough to touch it.

The officer then ordered all of the car so that it could be searched. Just 1.4 grams of marijuana and alprazolam, also known as Xanax, was found under the seat. There was no sign of burnt marijuana anywhere. At trial, a county judge threw out the evidence against the vehicle occupants, and a three-judge appellate panel last week agreed that this was the right thing to do considering what the police officers did that night.

"They simply approached the car, opened the doors, and removed the occupants," Judge Michael P. Boggs wrote for the panel. "When the officers here searched the interior of the vehicle without a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstances, their discovery of the drugs under the seat was illegal and was correctly suppressed."

State prosecutors argued that the search was permissible because of the "automobile exception" to the Fourth Amendment requirement to obtain a warrant before conducting a search. The judges rejected this line of reasoning.

"Even if we were to consider this argument, and even accepting the contention that probable cause existed to arrest appellees, the officers still were not authorized to enter the curtilage to make the arrests," Judge Boggs wrote. "On the contrary, to justify a nonconsensual, warrantless intrusion into a person's home, there must exist probable cause for the arrest or search inside the home and a showing of exigent circumstances."

The driveway was considered the "curtilage" or extension of the home belonging to Sims. Police could not enter without a warrant or an exigent circumstance.

A copy of the decision is available in a 100k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Georgia v. Vickers (Court of Appeals, State of Georgia, 11/1/2016)

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