There is a lot of confusion surrounding your rights when you interact with law enforcement. Misinformation abounds in the media, and the more technical aspects often don't receive adequate attention.
Searches and seizures of your personal property are some of the most confusing and frustrating experiences. Many people understand that law enforcement typically cannot enter their home without a warrant except in extreme circumstances. What they may not understand is that there is also an area outside of their home, known as the curtilage, that receives similar protections under the Fourth Amendment.
Understanding the concept of curtilage and how it applies to your residence can have a profound impact on your ability to defend yourself after the police search your property without a warrant. If the search involves space that could reasonably be part of the curtilage of your home, the search itself and anything police officers found or seized there could wind up excluded from criminal court proceedings.
What is curtilage, and where does it exist?
The simplest and most straightforward explanation for curtilage is that it is the area directly around your home where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, that does not include any open fields on your property. If you have a sprawling front lawn or acreage, for example, those open spaces are probably not part of the curtilage of your home.
The sidewalk that leads up to your front door, your stoop, your driveway, nearby fences and sheds, and the grass or landscaping directly in front of the entrance to your home or behind your home can all arguably be part of the curtilage for the property. It will depend on the size and layout of your property.
The areas considered curtilage receive the same protections as the interior of your home under the Fourth Amendment. Law enforcement officers must have a warrant if they want to search this area or seize items from it.
Establishing the curtilage of your property could protect you from prosecution
Far too many people don't understand the idea of curtilage and property rights, which could leave them unnecessarily vulnerable to consequences from searches and seizures that should not have taken place. Since the concept of curtilage is somewhat vague, it often requires skilled legal advocacy to establish an area outside of your home as protected under the Fourth Amendment.
If you believe that a warrantless search of or seizure of assets from your property may have violated your Fourth Amendment rights because the area in question is part of the curtilage of your home, you may be able to use that as part of your defense strategy against any criminal charges that resulted from the search.