On Monday, the Supreme Court released two opinions, added no new cases to the 2018 term, dismissed one case, and made some news on the abortion front. In a victory for the Fourth Amendment, the Court in Collins vs. Virginia ruled that police officers need a warrant to search a vehicle parked near a house. The case is interesting in that the petitioner- Collins- had eluded police on a motorcycle. By coincidence or luck, but some good investigative work, the police thought they found Collins after a chance encounter at the DMV, checked his Facebook page and noticed a picture of the motorcycle which had eluded them. They went to the house and noticed a motorcycle covered by a tarp parked near the house. After removing the tarp and obtaining the VIN, they determined the bike had been reported stolen.
Virginia’s fallback contention- that police should be allowed to search without a warrant vehicles parked in a driveway, but outside the curtilage- was also rejected since it would afford greater Constitutional protection to those who could afford a garage or other partial enclosure. Thomas filed a concurring opinion based on the exclusionary rule. Because the case against Collins was remanded to the Virginia courts (they could, for example, argue Collins could have moved the bike quickly thus creating an exigent circumstance which would not require a warrant), Thomas argued that if his Fourth Amendment rights were violated, then the exclusionary rule applied, but then questioned whether the Supreme Court had the authority to dictate to states use of the exclusionary rule. Alito’s dissent said the case relied upon whether the search was reasonable, concluded it was, and therefore Constitutional.
The second case decided- Lagos vs. United States- dealt with victim restitution and statutory interpretation of the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA). That law requires that defendants found guilty pay restitution to victims of specified crimes. That restitution applies to the victim’s costs incurred during the prosecution of a case. For example, day care, transportation expenses, time lost from work, etc. are valid monetary charges. The Court ruled that victim expenses incurred as part of a private investigation are not covered by the MVRA stating that the words “investigations” and “prosecutions” apply to government actions.
Justice Breyer noted practical reality stating that greater than 90% of victims never receive restitution anyway. However, in the case, General Electric Capital Corporation obtained a $30 million settlement against Lagos and the civil proceeding option no doubt alleviated some concern by the Court that victims would never receive restitution. Practicality also likely played a role in the decision as a contrary ruling would have placed added administrative burden on courts.
In a complicated civil case, the Court dismissed Vogt vs. City of Hays, Kansas as improvidently granted and let the 10th Circuit ruling stand. Given the strange factual and procedural history of the case which was argued three months ago, it is evident that the Court believes there are important Fifth Amendment implications here as concerns preliminary hearings and statements. However, this was not the clean case to decide those issues and given the implications and the split among Circuits, they will likely be on the look out for a better case to resolve the issue.
The Supreme Court refused to take up a petition from Planned Parenthood that challenged an Arkansas abortion law requiring abortion clinics to have doctors who prescribe abortion-inducing drugs to have admitting privileges at hospitals in case of emergencies. A federal district judge issued an injunction against implementing the law which the 8th Circuit lifted. They argued an injunction could not be implemented without concrete proof estimating or documenting the number of women who would be affected. Planned Parenthood took the extreme position that the Supreme Court should reverse the 8th Circuit ruling and that they are so wrong the Supreme Court can rule without briefing or argument on the merits.
The Court again failed to act on another abortion case- Azar vs. Garza- which involves an abortion of an unaccompanied illegal immigrant minor. This case has been on the agenda for 12 conferences now (nine of which were after they received the lower court records). The case has been relisted 11 times with a possible disposition one way or the other announced Monday, June 4th. For the record, there are still 29 cases from this term awaiting an opinion.