Search Warrants, the Fourth Amendment and Your Home

Clients often ask me whether the search conducted on their home and/or property was legal.  This blog will provide an overview of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Fourth Amendment applies when a person has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the area that is searched.  The area extends to the “curtilage” of homes, but not to “open fields.”

The Supreme Court has provided guidance on what is considered “curtilage.”  Some factors that are taken into consideration include: (1) the area’s proximity to the home; (2) whether the area is enclosed; (3) the usage of the area; and (4) the extent to which the resident has shielded the area from casual observation.  Accordingly, something that can be seen while someone is standing in an open field would likely not be considered curtilage.

In November 2013, the Michigan Court of Appeals considered whether a search violated the Fourth Amendment.  In that case, a police officer accompanied a DHS worker to the defendant’s home after allegations were made that a child consumed a toxic material.  The material is often used in the production of methamphetamine.  Officers viewed open boxes that were visible at the boundary between the defendant’s lawn and an open field.  Upon looking in the boxes and seeing that the contents included ingredients commonly used for methamphetamine, an officer obtained a search warrant.

The defendant argued that the search warrant was issued on the basis of information obtained through an illegal search.  The argument is based on the officers searching the boxes that were found on defendant’s property.  The Court of Appeals held that the search was not a Fourth Amendment search because the defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the boxes that were not within the curtilage of the home.

If you feel that you have been prejudiced by an unreasonable search or seizure, contact Hills Law Office today.

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