Friday, February 10th, 2006

Everything You Wanted to Know about Curtilage but Were Afraid to Ask

United States v. Titemore, Docket No. 05-1380-cr (2d Cir. Feb. 9, 2006) (Walker, Calabresi, Straub): In an opinion of little use to us city folks (and perhaps of only slightly greater relevance to our rural kin given its highly fact-specific nature), the Court rejects Titemore’s effort to suppress evidence (a rifle) seized after a state trooper, standing near “a principal entrance to [Titemore’s] home [after approaching it] using a route [through his property] that other visitors could be expected to take,” saw it in plain view. After an encyclopedic survey of the law regarding “curtilage” (one that took us back to those dreamy law school days), see Op. 12-21, and a mind-numbing discussion of minutiae regarding the layout of Titemore’s house and property, id. 5-9, the Court ruled that regardless of whether this area constitutes “curtilage” under the common law, Titemore had no reasonable expectation of privacy in this area under the familiar 2-part Katz test (that Government intrusions violate the Fourth Amendment only if, inter alia, the place invaded is one in which the defendant has a subjective expectation of privacy, and in which that expectation is “one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.” 389 U.S. 347, 361 (Harlan, J., concurring)) . In sum, the Court held, “when a police officer enters private property for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and embarks only upon places visitors could be expected to go, observations made from such vantage points are not covered by the Fourth Amendment.” Op. 23.

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