WHEN CAN POLICE ENTER THE CURTILAGE OF MY HOUSE?
Under the 4th Amendment, the Constitution guarantees that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in their homes. This is due to the fact that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion in their home. Additionally, a person has a reasonable, if somewhat diminished, expectation of privacy in their curtilage. However, are their circumstances where the police can enter the curtilage of your house without going through the process of obtaining a warrant?
First, we should define curtilage. Curtilage is a somewhat elusive concept to understand because there is no steadfast rules to define it. In United States v. Dunn, the Supreme Court stated that curtilage is the area of a property which houses the “intimate activity associated with the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” Although this may sound eloquent, it doesn’t quite give the average person a solid idea of what curtilage actually is. Generally, curtilage is considered to be the area in and around the home where the owners/occupants have a reasonable, but not quite as strong, expectation of privacy from government intrusion. This could encompass anything from an outdoor shed to a fenced in back yard.
Because of the expectation of privacy associated with curtilage, police officers may be required to have a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstance before they are legally allowed to enter into the curtilage. However, this is not always the case. If a person does not prevent any public access to their curtilage, it may not be given protection. This can be seen in a situation where a person has a fenced in yard, but the gate remains open for members of the public (mailman, vistors, etc.) to come into the curtilage. Because of this, a police officer is allowed to do the same. Additionally, although a person may have constructed a fence that obstructs the view into their yard, if there is a tall building or hill nearby, police officers are allowed to observe from the area since any other person could do the same thing. This permission to observe also extends to the airspace above a person’s property, as long as it is public airspace and not restricted.
Police Officer Functions
Police are also allowed to enter into the curtilage without having to seek a warrant or consent if they are lawfully allowed to be there by being engaged in official police business. This can be seen in various situations such as responding to a 911 call or attempting to talk to the owner of the property. Police officers are allowed this authority due to the fact that since the curtilage is the area where the owner or occupant of the property spends a lot of time, it is reasonable for a police officer to look for them there.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a crime based off a search of an area that could be curtilage, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case and possibly get the evidence excluded. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.