Junior Staff Reporter (2018 – 2019)
Hi. In this video, I will discuss the rights of privacy affecting the inside and the surrounding areas of your home. When I mention home, I am not just talking about a traditional home, but also your apartment, a trailer a person can live in, or something similar that is not easily movable. With that being said, in this video, the definition of a home will not include an easily movable living quarters like an RV.
Let’s first start with the inside of the home. The United States Supreme Court considers the home as one of the most private areas for people and because of that, it is given great protection from government or police interference. Without a warrant, emergency circumstances, or consent, the police cannot enter your home—which means they must have probable cause.1 In one case, officers used a thermal imaging device to see if a homeowner was using heat lamps for illegal purposes.2 The thermal imaging device showed where heat was being emitted inside the home.3 The Supreme court held that this was a violation of the homeowner’s right of privacy because although the officer did not go inside, it was still used to see things going on inside of a home.4 And using something to observe activity inside such a private place like a home could also see private intimate activity.5
Now let’s move just outside of the home. The area immediately surrounding the home is also known as curtilage.6 You might start to think this area automatically includes your back yard. It doesn’t. In fact, in one case, a homeowner had a barn in his backyard that was about fifty yards away from his home, and7 the SC held that the barn was not within the curtilage of his home.8 To gain a better understanding, let’s look at a couple of other examples. If a homeowner leaves his trash bags immediately outside his back door, this will likely be considered within the curtilage of his home. However, if that same homeowner decides he will place those same trash bags near the curb to be picked up on garbage day, that is not considered within the home’s curtilage, therefore an officer could search through them without a warrant because there is no expectation of privacy that exists for trash bags left outside of the curtilage for a trash collector. Now, let’s look at the front of a home—a much more complicated area of curtilage. This area is more complicated because it is common for people to walk up to a person’s front door without ever requesting permission. Whether it is a mailman, salesman, or even a close friend, the SC says knocking on a homeowner’s front door is an invitation to attempt entry, and that people are allowed to approach through a front-path, knock reasonably, wait briefly to be received, and leave if the homeowner does not grant the invitation to enter.9 In one case, an officer used a special narcotics dog to sniff around the porch area of a person’s home.10 Seems ok, but it’s not. The SC held that although the dog does not enter the home, the dog is still attempting to obtain private and intimate information within the curtilage of the home.11
For my last example for this video, we will stay outside, but go above the premises. For the past forty years, our daily lives have consisted of seeing airplanes or helicopters randomly fly over us. In recent years, flying drones are now also a possibility to be seen flying over us without any regard to our personal privacy. You’re probably hoping I am going to tell you that those three flying nuisances are breaking the law when they fly over your home. Don’t call your lawyer to file suit just yet. You are protected, but that protection is of course, limited. As long as an aircraft is flying within the legal distance above your home, the aircraft will not violate your right to privacy.12 Unfortunately, that also includes your next-door neighbor’s teenager who decided to fly his new drone over your backyard to see the progress on your new pool.13
That concludes the information for this video. I hope it was informative and helped you learn more about the rights of your home. If you would like more information about your Fourth Amendment privacy rights, contact a local attorney, or visit your local law library and ask to read United States Supreme Court cases discussing the Fourth Amendment. Thank you.
1 See Groh v. Ramirez, 540 U.S. 551 (2004); see also Warden v. Hayden, 387 U.S. 294 (1967); Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398 (2006).
2 See Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001).
3 See id.
4 See id.
5 See id.
6 See Dunn v. United States, 480 U.S. 294 (1987).
7 See id.
8 See id.
9 See Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1 (2013).
10 See id.
11 See id.
12 See Florida v. Riley, 488 U.S. 445 (1989).
13 See California v. Ciraolo,476 U.S. 207 (1986).