THE COURT OF APPEALS OF VIRGINIA
PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Powell, and
Kelsey, JJ., and Millette, S.J.
W. LEMONS CHIEF JUSTICE.
appeal, we consider whether the Court of Appeals erred in
affirming the judgment of conviction upon consideration of
the trial court's denial of a motion to suppress evidence
obtained when police conducted a warrantless search of a
stolen motorcycle parked in the driveway of a home where Ryan
Austin Collins ("Collins") resided.
Facts and Proceedings
was convicted in the Circuit Court of Albemarle County
("trial court") of receiving stolen property in
violation of Code § 18.2-108, and sentenced to three
years' imprisonment with all but two months suspended.
Prior to trial, Collins moved to suppress the
Commonwealth's evidence linking him to a stolen
motorcycle. The trial court denied Collins' motion to
suppress and held that the police search, although conducted
without a warrant, did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The
Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling and
Collins now challenges that decision.
4, 2013, Officer Matthew McCall of the Albemarle County
Police Department was patrolling on Route 29 near the border
of Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville when he
observed a traffic infraction by the operator of an orange
and black motorcycle with an extended frame. Officer McCall
activated his emergency lights and attempted to stop the
motorcycle, but the motorcycle eluded him at a high rate of
weeks later, on July 25, 2013, Officer David Rhodes, also of
the Albemarle Police Department, was in his police car on the
Route 250 Bypass when he observed an orange and black
motorcycle traveling at 100 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone.
Officer Rhodes engaged his emergency equipment and pursued
the motorcycle. Instead of stopping, the motorcyclist
increased his speed to at least 140 mph and sped away from
the police car. In the interest of safety, Officer Rhodes
abandoned his pursuit. However, Officer Rhodes' police
car video camera recorded the incident, and police were able
to use this footage to obtain a still photograph of the
motorcycle, including its license plates.
motorcycle was an orange and black Suzuki with chrome accents
and a "stretched out" rear wheel, indicating that
it had been modified for drag racing. Officer Rhodes could
not identify the driver through the darkly tinted helmet, but
he observed that the motorcyclist wore blue jeans and
"tan Timberland-type work boots." The motorcyclist
who eluded Officer McCall two months earlier also wore jeans
and "Timberland-type-style boots." After comparing
notes and identifying "an awful lot of
similarities" between the two eluding incidents,
Officers McCall and Rhodes concluded the same motorcyclist
had eluded each of them.
Officer Rhodes entered the motorcycle's license plate
number in a police database, he discovered that the tags were
"not on file" and had been inactive for several
years. The license plate was most recently registered to Eric
Jones ("Jones"). In the course of his
investigation, Officer Rhodes learned that Jones had sold the
motorcycle to Collins before the eluding incidents. Later, at
trial, Jones testified that he sold Collins the motorcycle in
April 2013 with the caveat that the motorcycle lacked title
and was stolen.
[COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY]: And so do you know why [the
motorcycle] didn't have a title?
[ERIC JONES]: Possibly stolen.
Q: Possibly stolen or you knew it was …
A: Yeah, yeah, it was stolen.
Q: It was stolen[?]
Q: And did you at some point then sell it to someone?
Q: And who did you sell to?
A: Sold it to Ryan.
Q: And who is Ryan? Do you know his last name?
Q: All right, and when you sold it to Ryan Collins, did you
tell him about the problem with the motorcycle, about it
A: Yeah, I did.
Q: And did you talk to him about the fact that it didn't
have a title?
September 10, 2013, Albemarle Police responded to the
Department of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") to investigate
an unrelated matter involving
Collins. Upon hearing Collins' name on the police radio,
Officers Rhodes and McCall also responded to the DMV to
question Collins since he was a suspect in the motorcycle
eluding incidents. Officer McCall advised Collins of his
Miranda rights, and Collins agreed to speak to the
officers. When questioned about the motorcycle, Collins
denied knowing anything about it, and told the officers that
he "hadn't ridden a motorcycle in months."
Meanwhile, Officer Rhodes searched a social media website
(Facebook) and found two photographs posted on Collins'
Facebook page depicting the motorcycle which appeared to have
been involved in the eluding incidents. The photographs
showed the orange and black motorcycle parked in a driveway
next to the vehicle Collins was attempting to register at the
Rhodes later testified that upon seeing the photographs of
the motorcycle on Collins' Facebook page, he "knew
100% sure that . . . was the same motorcycle that had not
stopped for me on the bypass based on looking at it. It was
very distinct and I knew, absolutely no question in my mind
that was the same motorcycle." However, when the
officers showed Collins the Facebook photographs, Collins
denied any knowledge of the motorcycle or the house depicted
in the photographs.
the questioning concluded, Collins left the DMV and the
officers continued their investigation. Officer Rhodes
learned from an informant that the house in the Facebook
photograph was located on Dellmead Lane in the City of
Charlottesville near the border of Albemarle County. Less
than half an hour later, Officer Rhodes located the house and
parked along the street. From his position on the street,
Officer Rhodes could see what appeared to be a motorcycle
covered with a white tarp. At trial, Officer Rhodes testified
that "a quarter of the wheel [was] sticking out from
underneath the cover" and that despite the tarp, he
recognized the distinct chrome accents and "stretched
out" shape of the motorcycle. Additionally, the location
and angle of the partially covered motorcycle matched that of
the motorcycle in Collins' Facebook photographs.
Rhodes then walked onto the property, "a car length or
two" up the driveway, between the street and the front
steps of the house. While standing on the driveway, Officer
Rhodes uncovered the motorcycle and confirmed that it
appeared to be the same orange and black Suzuki that had
eluded him on July 25, 2013. He then recorded the
motorcycle's vehicle identification number or
"VIN." A computer search of the VIN revealed the
motorcycle had been "stolen out of New York"
several years before. After gathering this information,
Officer Rhodes re-covered the motorcycle, left the property,
and returned to his police car to conduct surveillance and
wait for Collins.
thereafter, a vehicle dropped off Collins at the Dellmead
Lane residence. Officer Rhodes returned to the house and
knocked on the door, which Collins answered. Although it was
"over 90 [degrees] that day, " Collins came to the
door dressed in jeans, a sweatshirt, and Timberland-style
boots. Officer Rhodes later testified that "at the DMV
30 minutes prior" Collins had been wearing "shorts
and flip flops and a t-shirt." When asked about the
motorcycle, Collins initially said he "didn't know
anything about it." He then told Officer Rhodes it
belonged to a friend. Eventually, Collins admitted that he
purchased the motorcycle, without a title, from Eric Jones.
At trial during direct examination by the Commonwealth's
Attorney, Officer Rhodes recounted his conversation with
[COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY]: [T]ell the judge, please, when
[Collins] comes to the door what happened next?
[OFFICER RHODES]: I asked him, I said do you mind if I speak
with you, and he said sure. We came. . . outside, and I
started inquiring about the motorcycle. I asked him [if] he
knew about this motorcycle, [and] he told me he didn't
know anything about it, it was a friend's. . . .
[Collins] then told me "well I did ride it over, bring
it over from my mom's, over in Northfield over to
Dellmead Avenue, but that had been a while and I don't
ever drive it, because I don't have a motorcycle
Q: Did he tell you then, ultimately, whose motorcycle it was?
A: He told me it was … it was his. He told me
ultimately he had bought it, he had paid $3, 500 to Eric
Jones for the motorcycle, and that's where the tag comes
back into play … which corroborated that story that
that tag had involvement with Eric Jones….
Q: [Collins] bought the motorcycle from Eric Jones?
A: [Yes, t]he motorcycle from Eric Jones, and [Collins] had
paid $3, 500 for it, and there was no title ...