The Minnesota Supreme Court last week ruled that the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution protects driveways from warrantless searches.
A criminal defendant was convicted of receiving stolen property based on a warrantless police of a vehicle parked in his driveway. The police walked down his driveway to the back of the property to inspect the vehicle and found that it matched the description of a stolen vehicle.
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals and their homes and possessions against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. A search is unreasonable if the government lacks a warrant for the search and no exceptions to the warrant requirement apply. The home and the area immediately surrounding the home, known as the “curtilage” are protected areas and may not be searched without a warrant; in contrast, areas that are plainly visible and distant from the house are “open fields” and are not protected. A majority of the state supreme court held that the police officers’ search of the vehicle at the back of the driveway required entering the curtilage and thus that the search required a warrant. The dissent described the location of the vehicle as open fields, and thus not entitled to Fourth Amendment protection, because it was visible from the road and distant from the house.
The US Supreme Court will rule on a case raising similar facts before the end of the term. In that case, Collins v. Virginia, the issue presented is whether the Fourth Amendment’s automobile exception permits a police officer without a warrant to enter private property in order to search a vehicle parked a few feet from the house?
State v. Chute (opinion and summary)
Minnesota Supreme Court rules that warrants are required for searches in driveways, ABA Journal, March 15, 2018