Due to Fourth Amendment protections afforded to citizens, law enforcement generally cannot search a person’s home unless they have obtained a search warrant that has been reviewed and signed by a judge. The courts have created exceptions to this warrant requirement, but the fact remains that a warrant is generally required to conduct a legal search of a home. But how far outside of the walls of the home do these protections against warrantless searches extend? This is where the issue of “curtilage” comes into play.
Curtilage refers to the area immediately surrounding and associated with the home, which courts have held is part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly justified and upheld curtilage protections, recently stating: “At the [Fourth] Amendment’s very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion. This right would be of little practical value if the State’s agents could stand in a home’s porch or side garden and trawl for evidence with impunity; the right to retreat would be significantly diminished if the police could enter a man’s property to observe his repose from just outside the front window.”
If a search of curtilage is undertaken without first obtaining a warrant and no exception to the warrant requirement applies, then the search was conducted in violation of the constitution, thus requiring suppression of any evidence that was found as a result of the search. When evidence is suppressed, it often means that the case must also be dismissed resulting in a complete victory for the defendant, so the importance of hiring a criminal defense attorney to challenge questionable searches and seizures is obvious.
A number of factors are considered in making a determination as to whether a certain area constitutes curtilage. Geographical proximity to the home is a significant factor in determining whether a particular part of property upon which the home sits is actually part of the home’s curtilage, along with how that portion of the property is used and its surroundings. Under the “open fields doctrine,” property that falls outside of the curtilage is not shrouded in the same Fourth Amendment protections.
The attorneys at The Law Office of John J. Leunig have successfully argued for the suppression of evidence in numerous serious criminal cases. If you or a loved one are facing charges for a criminal offense, or believe a search was conducted in violation of your rights, call the criminal defense lawyers at The Law Office of John J. Leunig, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, at 952-540-6800 for a free consultation.