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Criminal Nuggets

Jun 19, 2018

Episode 501 (Duration 40:36) 3 criminal law cases from the Supreme Court of the United States were released in the second quarter of 2018. Here they are...

3 SCOTUS criminal law cases second quarter 2018

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In This Episode...

We discuss the following cases:

Byrd v. United States

Driver of a rental car not on the renting papers nonetheless has an expectation of privacy.


Defendant was driving a rental car in Pennsylvania.

When the police discovered he was not on the rental agreement they told him they didn’t need his permission to search the car. They found 49 bricks of heroin and charged him in federal court.


SCOTUS granted certiorari to address the question whether a driver has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a rental car when he is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement.


Defendant was given control of the car right at the rental lot after another person rented the car. Defendant was not listed as an additional driver and was prohibited from driving the car by contract. Defendant was stopped because he was driving with his hands at the 10 and 2 position, he was seated way back and it was a rental car. Further, he was very nervous and shaking with the police and admitted he had a blunt in the car.

Police sought his consent to search the car, but then just searched it.

When they found body armor defendant started to run away from the scene. He was caught and admitted there was heroin in the car.

The search resumed and police discovered the 49 bricks.

Lower Court

The lower courts denied his motion because they said he had no standing to raise the issue. 

Property Rights

Expectations of privacy protected by the Fourth Amendment, of course, need not be based on a common-law interest in real or personal property, or on the invasion of such an interest. Still, “property concepts” are instructive in determining the presence or absence of the privacy interests protected by that Amendment.

Indeed, more recent Fourth Amendment cases have clarified that the test most often associated with legitimate expectations of privacy, supplements, rather than displaces, “the traditional property-based understanding of the Fourth Amendment.” See Florida v. Jardines, 569 U. S. 1, 11 (2013).

Reference to property concepts aids the Court in assessing the precise question here: Does a driver of a rental car have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car when he or she is not listed as an authorized driver on the rental agreement?

One who owns and possesses a car, like one who owns and possesses a house, almost always has a reasonable expectation of privacy in it. More difficult to define and delineate are the legitimate expectations of privacy of others.

Privacy of Others

On the one hand, as noted above, it is by now well established that a person need not always have a recognized common-law property interest in the place searched to be able to claim a reasonable expectation of privacy in it.

On the other hand, it is also clear that legitimate presence on the premises of the place searched, standing alone, is not enough to accord a reasonable expectation of privacy, because it creates too broad a gauge for measurement of Fourth Amendment rights.

Although the Court has not set forth a single metric or exhaustive list of considerations to resolve the circumstances in which a person can be said to have a reasonable expectation of privacy, it has explained that legitimation of expectations of privacy by law must have a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society.

Right To Exclude Others

One of the main rights attaching to property is the right to exclude others, and, in the main, one who owns or lawfully possesses or controls property will in all likelihood have a legitimate expectation of privacy by virtue of the right to exclude.

This general property-based concept guides resolution of this case.


Here, the Government contends that drivers who are not listed on rental agreements always lack an expectation of privacy in the automobile based on the rental company’s lack of authorization alone. This per se rule rests on too restrictive a view of the Fourth Amendment’s protections.

On the other hand, merely being the sole occupant of a car doesn’t always create a privacy interest. A thief wouldn’t necessarily have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a car he was caught driving away in.

The Court sees no reason why the expectation of privacy that comes from lawful possession and control and the attendant right to exclude would differ depending on whether the car in question is rented or privately owned by someone other than the person in current possession of it. It does not seem to matter whether a friend owns or leases an apartment he is permitted to use.

Both an owner and invited guest would have the expectation of privacy that comes with the right to exclude.

Lawful Possession

The central inquiry at this point turns on the concept of lawful possession, and this is where an important qualification of Byrd’s proposed rule comes into play. No matter the degree of possession and control, the car thief would not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a stolen car.

Though new, the fact pattern here continues a well traveled path in this Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.


Those cases support the proposition, and the Court now holds, that the mere fact that a driver in lawful possession or control of a rental car is not listed on the rental agreement will not defeat his or her otherwise reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Court leaves for remand two of the Government’s arguments: that one who intentionally uses a third party to procure a rental car by a fraudulent scheme for the purpose of committing a crime is no better situated than a car thief; and that probable cause justified the search in any event.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remand.

McCoy v. Louisiana

Defendant has the right to maintain his innocence even if his attorney thinks otherwise. Defendant got the death penalty for a triple murder.


Defendant’s wife’s mother, step father and son were all shot and killed in their home. Defendant says he was out of state in Idaho at the time of the killing and that the police shot and killed the family. The defense attorney believed the evidence was overwhelming against defendant. Defendant didn’t care and wanted to proceed with his alibi defense.

Attorney Concedes Guilt

At the beginning of his opening statement at the guilt phase of the trial, the lawyer told the jury there was “no way reasonably possible” that they could hear the prosecution’s evidence and reach “any other conclusion than Robert McCoy was the cause of these individuals’ death.” McCoy protested; out of earshot of the jury, McCoy told the court that his lawyer was “selling [him] out”.

Continuing his opening statement, counsel told the jury the evidence is “unambiguous,” “my client committed three murders.”

Defendant Testified

McCoy testified in his own defense, maintaining his innocence and pressing an alibi difficult to fathom.

In his closing argument, the attorney reiterated that McCoy was the killer. At the penalty phase, he again conceded “Robert McCoy committed these crimes,” but urged mercy in view of McCoy’s “serious mental and emotional issues.”


We granted certiorari in view of a division of opinion among state courts of last resort on the question whether it is unconstitutional to allow defense counsel to concede guilt over the defendant’s intransigent and unambiguous objection.

Right To Counsel

The Sixth Amendment guarantees to each criminal defendant “the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

As this court has explained, the right to defend is personal, and a defendant’s choice in exercising that right must be honored out of that respect for the individual which is the lifeblood of the law.

Similarly, the right to appear pro se exists to affirm the dignity and autonomy of the accused. The choice is not all or nothing: To gain assistance, a defendant need not surrender control entirely to counsel. For the Sixth Amendment, in granting to the accused personally the right to make his defense, speaks of the assistance of counsel, and an assistant, however expert, is still an assistant.

The Sixth Amendment contemplates a norm in which the accused, and not a lawyer, is master of his own defense. Trial management is the lawyer’s province: Counsel provides his or her assistance by making decisions such as “what arguments to pursue, what evidentiary objections to raise, and what agreements to conclude regarding the admission of evidence.” Gonzalez v. United States, 553 U. S. 242, 248 (2008).

Decisions For Defendant Alone

Some decisions, however, are reserved for the client—notably, whether to plead guilty, waive the right to a jury trial, testify in one’s own behalf, and forgo an appeal. See Jones v. Barnes, 463 U. S. 745, 751 (1983).

Autonomy to decide that the objective of the defense is to assert innocence belongs in this latter category.

Just as a defendant may steadfastly refuse to plead guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence against her, or reject the assistance of legal counsel despite the defendant’s own inexperience and lack of professional qualifications, so may she insist on maintaining her innocence at the guilt phase of a capital trial.

These are not strategic choices about how best to achieve a client’s objectives; they are choices about what the client’s objectives in fact are. Counsel may reasonably assess a concession of guilt as best suited to avoiding the death penalty, as counsel did in this case.

Defendant Has Different Motivations

But the client may not share that objective. He may wish to avoid, above all else, the opprobrium that comes with admitting he killed family members. Or he may hold life in prison not worth living and prefer to risk death for any hope, however small, of exoneration.

When a client expressly asserts that the objective of “his defence” is to maintain innocence of the charged criminal acts, his lawyer must abide by that objective and may not override it by conceding guilt.

What About Rules of Precessional Responsibility?

ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2(a) (2016) says a “lawyer shall abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of the representation”. Preserving for the defendant the ability to decide whether to maintain his innocence should not displace counsel’s, or the court’s, respective trial management roles.

Counsel, in any case, must still develop a trial strategy and discuss it with her client.

Simply stated, the rules of professional responsibility would have allowed counsel to put on defendant's defense.

The prohibition against offering false evidence only applies if the lawyer knows that the evidence is false. This attorney harbored no doubt that McCoy believed what he was sayin, the lawyer simply disbelieved McCoy’s account in view of the prosecution’s evidence.

Counsel’s express motivation for conceding guilt was not to avoid suborning perjury, but to try to build credibility with the jury, and thus obtain a sentence lesser than death.

Louisiana’s ethical rules might have stopped counsel from presenting McCoy’s alibi evidence if he knew perjury was involved. But Louisiana has identified no ethical rule requiring him to admit McCoy’s guilt over McCoy’s objection.

Defendant's Have A Right To Steer The Ship Into The Reef

If, after consultations with his attorney concerning the management of the defense, McCoy disagreed with his proposal to concede McCoy committed three murders, it was not open to the attorney to override McCoy’s objection.

Counsel could not interfere with McCoy’s telling the jury “I was not the murderer,” although counsel could, if consistent with providing effective assistance, focus his own collaboration on urging that McCoy’s mental state weighed against conviction.

Here, McCoy opposed his attorney's assertion of his guilt at every opportunity, before and during trial, both in conference with his lawyer and in open court.

If a client declines to participate in his defense, then an attorney may permissibly guide the defense pursuant to the strategy she believes to be in the defendant’s best interest. Presented with express statements of the client’s will to maintain innocence, however, counsel may not steer the ship the other way.

These were not strategic disputes about whether to concede an element of a charged offense; they were intractable disagreements about the fundamental objective of the defendant’s representation. 

It's Structural Error

Violation of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment-secured autonomy ranks as error of the kind our decisions have called “structural”; when present, such an error is not subject to harmless-error review.

Structural error “affect[s] the framework within which the trial proceeds,” as distinguished from a lapse or flaw that is “simply an error in the trial process itself.” An error may be ranked structural, we have explained, “if the right at issue is not designed to protect the defendant from erroneous conviction but instead protects some other interest,” such as “the fundamental legal principle that a defendant must be allowed to make his own choices about the proper way to protect his own liberty.”

An error might also count as structural when its effects are too hard to measure, as is true of the right to counsel of choice, or where the error will inevitably signal fundamental unfairness, as we have said of a judge’s failure to tell the jury that it may not convict unless it finds the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.


In this stark scenario, we agree with the majority of state courts of last resort that counsel may not admit her client’s guilt of a charged crime over the client’s intransigent objection to that admission.

McCoy must therefore be accorded a new trial without any need first to show prejudice.

McCoy insistently maintained: “I did not murder my family.”

Once he communicated that to court and counsel, strenuously objecting to English’s proposed strategy, a concession of guilt should have been off the table. The trial court’s allowance of Counsel’s admission of McCoy’s guilt despite McCoy’s insistent objections was incompatible with the Sixth Amendment.

Because the error was structural, a new trial is the required corrective. For the reasons stated, the judgment of the Louisiana Supreme Court is reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

See Also

Episode 033 - People v. Holt,  2014 IL 116989 (November) (counsel admits his client is unfit against the client's admit protest to the contrary)

Collins v. Virginia

Police need a warrant to search a vehicle on private property.


This case presents the question whether the automobile exception to the Fourth Amendment permits a police officer, uninvited and without a warrant, to enter the curtilage of a home in order to search a vehicle parked therein.


Police were aware of a man speeding on an orange and black motorcycle but were unable to catch him. Officers learned that the motorcycle likely was stolen and in the possession of petitioner Ryan Collins. After discovering photographs on Collins’ Facebook profile that featured an orange and black motorcycle parked at the top of the driveway of a house, Officer Rhodes tracked down the address of the house, drove there, and parked on the street.

It was later established that Collins’ girlfriend lived in the house and that Collins stayed there a few nights per week.

From his parked position on the street, Officer Rhodes saw what appeared to be a motorcycle with an extended frame covered with a white tarp, parked at the same angle and in the same location on the driveway as in the Facebook photograph.

No Warrant

Officer Rhodes, who did not have a warrant, exited his car and walked toward the house.

He stopped to take a photograph of the covered motorcycle from the sidewalk, and then walked onto the residential property and up to the top of the driveway to where the motorcycle was parked. When Officer Rhodes searched the motorcycle, it was parked inside this partially enclosed top portion of the driveway that abuts the house.

In order “to investigate further,” Officer Rhodes pulled off the tarp, revealing a motorcycle that looked like the one from the speeding incident. He then ran a search of the license plate and vehicle identification numbers, which confirmed that the motorcycle was stolen.

After gathering this information, Officer Rhodes took a photograph of the uncovered motorcycle, put the tarp back on, left the property, and returned to his car to wait for Collins.

Defendant Gets Home

Shortly thereafter, Collins returned home.

Officer Rhodes walked up to the front door of the house and knocked. Collins answered, agreed to speak with Officer Rhodes, and admitted that the motorcycle was his and that he had bought it without title.

Officer Rhodes then arrested Collins.


Collins was indicted by a Virginia grand jury for receiving stolen property.

Automobile Exception v. Warrant Requirement

This case arises at the intersection of two components of the Court’s Fourth Amendment jurisprudence: the automobile exception to the warrant requirement and the protection extended to the curtilage of a home.

Automobile Exception

The Court has held that the search of an automobile can be reasonable without a warrant.

The Court first articulated the so-called automobile exception in Carroll v. United States, 267 U. S. 132 (1925). The “ready mobility” of vehicles served as the core justification for the automobile exception for many years. California v. Carney, 471 U. S. 386, 390 (1985) (citing, e.g., Cooper v. California, 386 U. S. 58, 59 (1967); Chambers v. Maroney, 399 U. S. 42, 51–52 (1970)).

Later cases then introduced an additional rationale based on “the pervasive regulation of vehicles capable of traveling on the public highways.” Carney, 471 U. S., at 392. As the Court explained in South Dakota v. Opperman, 428 U. S. 364 (1976):

“Automobiles, unlike homes, are subjected to pervasive and continuing governmental regulation and controls, including periodic inspection and licensing requirements. As an everyday occurrence, police stop and examine vehicles when license plates or inspection stickers have expired, or if other violations, such as exhaust fumes or excessive noise, are noted, or if headlights or other safety equipment are not in proper working order.”

Id., at 368.

Homes Are Different

These rationales don’t exist for houses.

Like the automobile exception, the Fourth Amendment’s protection of curtilage has long been black letter law. “[W]hen it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the home is first among equals.” Florida v. Jardines, 569 U. S. 1, 6 (2013). “At the Amendment’s ‘very core’ stands ‘the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.’” Ibid. (quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 U. S. 505, 511 (1961)).

Curtilage Part Of The Home

To give full practical effect to that right, the Court considers curtilage—“the area ‘immediately surrounding and associated with the home’”—to be “‘part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.’” Jardines, 569 U. S., at 6 (quoting Oliver v. United States, 466 U. S. 170, 180 (1984)). “The protection afforded the curtilage is essentially a protection of families and personal privacy in an area intimately linked to the home, both physically and psychologically, where privacy expectations are most heightened.” California v. Ciraolo, 476 U. S. 207, 212–213 (1986).

When a law enforcement officer physically intrudes on the curtilage to gather evidence, a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment has occurred. Such conduct thus is presumptively unreasonable absent a warrant.

Just like the front porch, side garden, or area outside the front window the driveway enclosure where Officer Rhodes searched the motorcycle constitutes an area adjacent to the home and to which the activity of home life extends, and so is properly considered curtilage.

State Says Expand Automobile Exception

Virginia asks the Court to expand the scope of the automobile exception to permit police to invade any space outside an automobile even if the Fourth Amendment protects that space. Nothing in our case law, however, suggests that the automobile exception gives an officer the right to enter a home or its curtilage to access a vehicle without a warrant.

Expanding the scope of the automobile exception in this way would both undervalue the core Fourth Amendment protection afforded to the home and its curtilage and untether the automobile exception from the justifications underlying it. Riley v. California, 573 U. S. ___, ___ (2014) (slip op., at 10) (quoting Arizona v. Gant, 556 U. S. 332, 343 (2009)).

Surely, He Couldn't Go In The House

Had Officer Rhodes seen illegal drugs through the window of Collins’ house, for example, assuming no other warrant exception applied, he could not have entered the house to seize them without first obtaining a warrant. Similarly, it is a “settled rule that warrantless arrests in public places are valid,” but, absent another exception such as exigent circumstances, officers may not enter a home to make an arrest without a warrant, even when they have probable cause. Payton v. New York, 445 U. S. 573, 587–590 (1980).

That is because being arrested in the home involves not only the invasion attendant to all arrests but also an invasion of the sanctity of the home.

Likewise, searching a vehicle parked in the curtilage involves not only the invasion of the Fourth Amendment interest in the vehicle but also an invasion of the sanctity of the curtilage.

Must Have A Lawful Right To Be There

Just as an officer must have a lawful right of access to any contraband he discovers in plain view in order to seize it without a warrant, and just as an officer must have a lawful right of access in order to arrest a person in his home, so, too, an officer must have a lawful right of access to a vehicle in order to search it pursuant to the automobile exception.

The automobile exception does not afford the necessary lawful right of access to search a vehicle parked within a home or its curtilage because it does not justify an intrusion on a person’s separate and substantial Fourth Amendment interest in his home and curtilage.

Garages Would Have More Protection

Virginia’s proposed bright-line rule automatically would grant constitutional rights to those persons with the financial means to afford residences with garages in which to store their vehicles but deprive those persons without such resources of any individualized consideration as to whether the areas in which they store their vehicles qualify as curtilage. See United States v. Ross, 456 U. S. 798, 822 (1982) (“[T]he most frail cottage in the kingdom is absolutely entitled to the same guarantees of privacy as the most majestic mansion”).


To allow an officer to rely on the automobile exception to gain entry into a house or its curtilage for the purpose of conducting a vehicle search would unmoor the exception from its justifications, render hollow the core Fourth Amendment protection the Constitution extends to the house and its curtilage, and transform what was meant to be an exception into a tool with far broader application.

Given the centrality of the Fourth Amendment interest in the home and its curtilage and the disconnect between that interest and the justifications behind the automobile exception, we decline Virginia’s invitation to extend the automobile exception to permit a warrantless intrusion on a home or its curtilage.

For the foregoing reasons, we conclude that the automobile exception does not permit an officer without a warrant to enter a home or its curtilage in order to search a vehicle therein.

The judgment of the Supreme Court of Virginia is therefore reversed, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.

See Also

People v. Smock, 2018 IL App (5th) 140449 (April). Episode 489 - This Hot Pursuit Of A Disorderly Conduct Suspect Didn’t Justify The Warrantless Entry Into The Trailer

Episode 464 - Constitutionality Based On Structure: Do Houses Have More Protection Than Apartments?

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