The 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects conducted by government officials.  An emerging issue that has confronted courts for many years, most recently in a North Carolina Court of Appeals decision, is whether or not curtilage is considered part of the home so that a warranted must be obtained before it may be searched.

Curtilage is defined as the land immediately surrounding a house or dwelling, including any closely associated buildings and structures, but excluding any associated “open fields beyond”. It delineates the boundary within which a home owner can have a reasonable expectation of privacy and where “intimate home activities” take place.  In United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 (1987), the Supreme Court provided guidance in interpreting whether the homeowner had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the area searched saying that, “curtilage questions should be resolved with particular reference to four factors: the proximity of the area claimed to be curtilage to the home, whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home, the nature of the uses to which the area is put, and the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by.”

Based on these and other contributing factors, the North Carolina Court of Appeals in its recent decision in State v. Grice, 2012 N.C. App. LEXIS 1316 (November 20, 2012), held that a valid knock and announce presence by police officers does not support a warrantless search and seizure of evidence inside the curtilage of a home, even if the evidence is in plain view while the officer is located at a lawful vantage point.  The court of appeals weighed heavily the fact that it would be hard to limit a knock and announce rule as prerequisite to any seizure of evidence inside the home’s curtilage based on the plain-view doctrine to ensure a reasonable expectation of privacy of homeowners.  The court reasoned that by giving officers the right to seize any item in plain-view from a lawful vantage point wherever that item may be located goes against the policy of private citizens being secure and free in their homes and is filled with the dangers the 4th Amendment was intended to prohibit.

If you or someone you know is facing criminal charges due to a Constitutional violation, contact the law offices of Robert J. Reeves,PC to consult with one of our criminal attorneys. We are licensed in both North and South Carolina, where you can contact us at 704-499-9000 or 877-374-5999 toll-free.