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. However, does this expectation of privacy extend outside of the house to other parts of the property like a fenced in yard or shed? To answer this question, we must take a look at the legal term 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 these areas, police officers may be required to have a warrant, consent, or exigent circumstance before they are legally allowed to enter into the curtilage.
Generally, in order for the police to search your house, they are required to have a warrant, consent, or some exigent circumstance. Although this covers police searches of your house, determining whether a police officer can come on to your property is an entirely different matter. Since each house or residence is different and could have any number of different examples of curtilage (fenced in yard, fenced in pool, sheds, barns, etc.), it’s impossible to have any fixed rule. Because of this, the Supreme Court in Dunn identified four factors to consider when determining whether an area should be considered curtilage:
- The proximity of the area to the home;
- Whether the area is within an enclosure surrounding the home;
- The nature and use of the area in question; and
- The steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation;
Curtilage for Businesses
As a matter of law, a business generally does not have curtilage associated with their property. This is due to the fact that curtilage is a legal concept that is based on the privacy of a person’s home, not a business. Additionally, businesses as a whole tend to want members of the public to visit their premises in order to make money. However, businesses do have a reasonable expectation of privacy in areas where they have actively taken steps to prevent public access. This can be seen in fenced off sections or guarded locations.
Although determining curtilage is done on a case-by-case basis, curtilage is something every person should be aware of due to the legal implications involved. Even though you may have a locked-up shed or a fenced in backyard, if the courts determine that these areas are not curtilage under the test given in Dunn, police officers may be allowed to enter into those areas without any regard to the 4th Amendment.
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.
James Minick is founder and C.E.O. of Minick Law, P.C. James is committed to providing top notch legal services through his team of highly specialized legal professionals. James will defend your rights.