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Minnesota Supreme Court Expands Curtilage Protection

Do some areas outside your home receive as much protection as your home under the Fourth Amendment? Recently, the Minnesota Supreme Court addressed that question in State v. Chute. The court analyzed whether an officer’s examination of a camper-tent outside someone’s home was a Fourth Amendment violation. This case highlights expanding the privacy of a home through the curtilage doctrine.[1]

Facts

In Chute, a Maplewood resident discovered his pop-up camper was missing and reported it to the police. Months later, he sees the stolen camper while driving. After investigating further, he alerts the police.[2] Following this call, a Maplewood officer comes to the property, which is owned by Chute, to further investigate. Once the officer arrived on the scene, they were able to determine that the camper met the description of the stolen property from several months prior. The officer initially made this determination from the road, but then drove roughly 200 ft. onto Chute’s driveway.[3] After this initial ascent onto Chute’s property, the officer decided to exit his vehicle and approach the camper on foot.

Upon arriving at the camper, the officer determined that it was the stolen camper the resident had reported by locating and verifying the VIN number stamped on the frame of the camper. Then, the officer entered the camper, without warrant, and retrieved personal property of the true owner.

Court’s Analysis

The court held that the officer’s warrantless entry onto the curtilage of Chute’s home, and subsequent investigation of the camper, was a non-consensual search that violated his Fourth Amendment rights. In its reasoning, the court highlights the concurring opinion from Justice Harlan in Katz v. United States, which developed a two-prong test: (1) does the defendant have a subjective expectation of privacy; and (2) is there an objective expectation of privacy.

The Court recognized officers have an implied license to go onto a driveway under Florida v. Jardines. But the officer violated the implied license to use the driveway, when he deviated from approaching the home. Using the Dunn curtilage doctrine,[4] the court determined the officer was searching within the curtilage of the home, which receives the same protections as the home itself. With neither a warrant, nor consent, the search of the camper within the curtilage of the home was unreasonable and unconstitutional.

MN’s Curtilage

From the opinion in Chute, it would appear that Minnesota is adopting a wider umbrella of protection under the curtilage doctrine than the U.S. Constitution. The decision gives us an example where curtilage can extend to areas that are not so intimately connected to the home as previous cases have stated, such as the motorcycle directly next to the house in Collins v. Virginia.

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

[1] The “Curtilage Doctrine” is properly defined in United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294, 107 S. Ct. 1134 (1987).  In Dunn, the SCOTUS described the concept of curtilage as “the area around the home to which the activity of home life extends.”

[2] This is important background of this case, because the Fourth Amendment only protects people from government searches. This means that searches done by regular citizens, or people who are not agents of a government agency in some capacity, cannot be challenged under the Fourth Amendment. If the person would have gone onto Chute’s property to further investigate the suspected camper, Chute may have had a trespass claim against him, but no Fourth Amendment claim would have been available.

[3] The Court held that this, relying on United States v. Shuck, 713 F.3d 563 (10th Cir. 2013), was okay because Chute had impliedly granted the public access to his backyard to seek “a back-door entrance to the house and garage” based on the layout of his home.

[4] The four Dunn factors are: (1) the proximity of the area claimed to be curtilage to the home; (2) whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home; (3) the nature of the uses to which the area is put; and (4) the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by.

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