Open Fields v. Curtilage

Open Fields v. Curtilage

By:  Dee Wampler

A recent court case concerned a police officer conducting a “knock and talk” at the front door or a backwoods trailer home.  He did not invade the owner’s reasonable expectation of privacy when he walked around the back porch area and saw evidence of a meth lab on the back porch.[1]

Police must respect the distinction between the “open fields” doctrine and the “curtilage” to deliver a cautionary note to officers in their searches.[2]  As a citizen – the Fourth Amendment is suppose to protect your home and your rights of privacy.  There are four factors to consider when determining whether an area falls within the curtilage:

  1. The proximity to the area of the home;
  2. Whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home;
  3. The uses to which the area is put;
  4. The steps you take to protect the area from observations of others.

Officers are not required to stay at the front of a residence as back yards are almost always treated as a part of the curtilage.  The “open fields” doctrine permits warrantless searches of areas beyond the curtilage.[3]  Open fields do not provide setting for those intimate activities that the Fourth Amendment is intended to shelter from government interference or surveillance but the curtilage evades a precise definition but extends to the “intimate activity associated with the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.”

[1] Commonwealth v. Dixon, 98 Crim Law 504 (KY 2016).

[2] U.S. v. Dunn, 480 US 294 (1987).

[3] Katz v. U.S., 39 US 349 (1967).

By | 2017-05-15T14:09:14+00:00 May 31st, 2017|Legal News|Comments Off on Open Fields v. Curtilage

About the Author:

Dee Wampler
Dee Wampler has practiced law for 50 years has received many awards and honors. As Greene County’s youngest elected Prosecuting Attorney at the age of 29, Wampler’s reputation was quickly established as a leading trial attorney. Dee was an original organizer and first president Crimestoppers. Wampler has published over 250 articles for Law Enforcement Journals, and authored six books: Missouri Criminal Law Handbook; The Trial of Christ; The Myth of Separation Between Church and State; Standing on the Front Line; Defending Yourself Against Cops in Missouri, and other Strange Places; and One Nation Under God. His knowledge of criminal law and trial tactics is widely recognized.