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validity of a search warrant

Recently, the Minnesota Court of Appeals dabbled with Pine Martens and Goshawks. While doing so, it reviewed the validity of a search warrant in State v. Bishop.  In Bishop, officers investigated a burglary of taxidermic mounts in a farm home. As law enforcement responded to the home, an officer knocked on the front door, a dog barked, and some commotion occurred inside. An officer turned to his left and look inside a window, which was not obstructed, and noticed the mounted Pine Marten on the wall.

After seeing the alleged stolen dead animal, law enforcement obtained a search warrant. While executing the warrant, officers discovered a marijuana grow in Bishop’s basement and pursued a second warrant to search the home for narcotics. That warrant resulted in finding cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and methamphetamine paraphernalia. Because of these findings, Bishop was found guilty of several drug related charges, which he appealed on the grounds that the initial search warrant was invalid due to unlawful search producing the necessary probable cause for it.

Bishop’s Appeal

Bishop appealed his conviction on grounds that the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence. Specifically, Bishop challenged that the officer’s initial observations inside Bishop’s home were unlawful. A search of a home may occur without an officer ever crossing the threshold of that dwelling. This is because the area outside of the home, the curtilage, can be considered part of the home itself under proper circumstances. The big difference between the actual home and the curtilage, for this case in particular, is the implied license someone may have to enter the curtilage. This implied license to approach a home is limited to approaching, knocking, and waiting a reasonable amount of time to be received by the home’s occupants. If a police officer were to see something while this was occurring, without further invading the dwelling itself, then this would not be a search protected by the Fourth Amendment. This is not a search due to the fact that when a person knowingly exposes something to the public, even something within their own home, they are not protected by the Fourth Amendment from others seeing whatever it is.[1]

In Bishop, when the officer approached the home and knocked on Bishop’s door, the officer was under his implied consent to do so. When he then subsequently heard a noise and looked in the window next to the door without leaving the door step, he was simply observing something that was exposed to the public from a legal vantage point within the curtilage of the home. As the court of appeals reasoned, Officer Burn’s conduct was within the scope of the implied license to approach, knock, and wait to be received.

Even though the Fourth Amendment protects a person’s home against unreasonable searches and seizures, the protection is not absolute. There are certain exceptions to the warrant requirement, and often courts will not enforce constitutional protections if there are exceptions to getting a warrant, such as being in a place you are legally allowed to be and seeing something in plain view.

Alec Rolain is a law clerk at Ambrose Law Firm, PLLC. He is in his final semester at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota. Prior to law school, Alec attended St. Mary’s University in Winona where he played baseball and made the MIAC all-sportsmanship team.

[1]State v. Carter, 569 N.W. 2d 169 (Minn. 1997).

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