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Do you live in a house or an apartment? Or, some other abode? Why do we care? Depending on whether you occupy space on Boardwalk or Baltic Avenue, it will determine how much protection you have under the Fourth Amendment, at least according to the Minnesota Supreme Court.

Recently, the court decided State v. Edstrom. It analyzed how far curtilage extends for an apartment and whether someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hallway outside their apartment door.

Brief Facts

Police officers received an anonymous tip that Mr. Edstrom was selling methamphetamine out of his Brooklyn Park apartment. Pursuant to Florida v. JL, the police properly corroborated this anonymous tip. Following corroboration, police used a Knox Box[1] to gain access to the apartment building with a narcotics-sniffing dog. As the canine checked Mr. Edstrom’s apartment door, it did not alert to any narcotics being present. However, upon inspecting the door seam, it alerted to narcotics being nearby. With the dog’s alert, and the corroboration of the anonymous tip from earlier, the police now had the necessary elements to obtain a search warrant. The police later executed the warrant, which resulted in finding of meth, marijuana, firearms, ammunition, and other illegal items.

At the district court level, Mr. Edstrom moved to suppress the evidence under both the United States and Minnesota Constitution. He argued that the initial narcotics-dog sniff was a violation of his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches. When making this claim, you must show that: (1) a search occurred; and (2) it happened in an area where you have a legitimate expectation of privacy.[2]

Analysis

A search can occur when the government physically intrudes onto a constitutionally protected area, like the home or its curtilage.[3] Additionally, a search can occur when the government intrudes upon a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.[4] Edstrom argued that the police were intruding on the curtilage of his apartment and that he has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the hallway which the police searched.

While it is clear that the home itself is a constitutionally protected area, it is not always clear what will be considered curtilage, which receives the same level of protections within the home.[5] Furthermore, if an area is considered curtilage, and police bring narcotics-sniffing dogs there, it is considered a search under the Fourth Amendment.[6] To determine what constitutes curtilage, the court looks at the following Dunnfactors: (1) the proximity of the area to the home; (2) if the area is surrounded by an enclosure; (3) how the area is being used; and (4) what steps, if any, have been taken to exclude others from the area.

Based on these factors, the MN Supreme Court concluded that the search did not occur within the curtilage Mr. Edstrom’s apartment. Additionally, because of the common access that residents have to the hallway, it is not an area where you can have a reasonable expectation of privacy. Thus, the narcotics-sniffing dog being present did not constitute a search, and Mr. Edstrom has no reasonable expectation of privacy within the hallway. Because of this, the Court ruled that neither a Fourth Amendment violation occurred, nor a violation to Article 1, §10 of the Minnesota Constitution.

Alec Rolain is a law clerk at Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC. He just started his final year at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul. Prior to law school, Alec attended St. Mary’s University in Winona where he played baseball and made the MIAC all-sportsmanship team. Criminal Defense Lawyer Woodbury; DWI Attorney Woodbury MN; and Criminal Appeals Attorney Minnesota.

[1]A Knox Box is installed by building owners to facilitate law enforcement access in cases of medical emergencies, criminal complaints, tenant disputes, foot patrols to become familiar with the building, and dog sniffs. Building owners are generally aware that police occasionally enter their buildings via these boxes. Police have keys to open Knox Boxes, State v. Edstrom, No. A16-1382, 2018 Minn. LEXIS 446 (Aug. 15, 2018).

[2]Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967).

[3]United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 406-07 n.3 (2012).

[4]Smith v. Maryland, 442 U.S. 735, 739-40 (1979).

[5]We previously discussed the Minnesota Supreme Court decision, State v. Chute here. This case emphasized the importance of privacy within the home, and how that same privacy is extended to the homes curtilage. Chute was a broadening of the previous curtilage doctrine within Minnesota. The holding expanded the curtilage protections. While this was a great win for defense counsel and citizens across Minnesota, it was not a case establishing all curtilage cases moving forward. This is due, in part, to the fact that all curtilage-type issues are extremely fact specific. In Chute, the curtilage issue dealt with the area surrounding a home and the yard the home was enclosed by. The present case, State v. Edstrom, deals with an apartment complex, and a narcotics-sniffing dog search.

[6]Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 11–12 (2013).

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