Improper Search…depends on the definition of Curtilage

If evidence was gained by the police through illegal means, that evidence can be suppressed. The U.S. Constitution protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Suppression means that the evidence cannot be presented in court. If evidence that should have been suppressed is presented, and there is a conviction, that conviction can be overturned. There are many possible ways that a knowledgeable Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney can try to get evidence against you suppressed.

Searches and Warrants

When a search warrant is issued, it will have a description of the specific places that are allowed to be searched. In this case, the warrant permitted the police to search three motel rooms and people who were believed to be involved in the crime, the curtilage, and any vehicles located in the curtilage. The SWAT team came in to perform the search. During the search, they saw the defendant leave one of the hotel rooms and walk to his car, which was parked a few feet away in the parking lot of the motel. He got into his car, and as he tried to leave, he was stopped by law enforcement, blocking him in. Then he got out of his car and lay on the ground. The officer searched his car and found drugs.

The question raised on this appeal was whether the search was legal. Was the defendant’s car located in a place that was covered by the warrant? The answer rested on the definition of curtilage. If the defendant’s car was parked in the “curtilage,” the search was legal. If it was not part of the curtilage, the search was illegal and should be suppressed.

What is Curtilage?

Curtilage refers to the private outdoor area of places, such as a yard or patio. In this case, the trial court found that the car was in the curtilage of the rooms named in the search warrant. They relied on the fact that the car was very close to the motel room doors. However, the appeals court overturned that decision and held that proximity was not the determinative factor.

The Florida Second District Court of Appeals reversed the decision. The court held that the vehicle was not in the “curtilage” of the rooms, and thus the evidence needed to be suppressed. Therefore, the charges should be dismissed because the search was where all of the evidence for the charges was found. The court relied on the “Dunn” factors from a previous Supreme Court decision to determine what is and is not curtilage. These factors look at the proximity to the home, whether it is enclosed, the nature of the uses of the area, and steps that the resident has taken to protect the area from people going by it.

Here, they relied on the fact that the parking spot was in a place that anyone could access. The court also was persuaded by the lack of enclosure of the parking lot. After weighing all of the factors in Dunn, they found that the balance of the evidence supported the conclusion that the parking space was not curtilage.

When arrested know your rights and have a criminal defense attorney representing you. Call the offices of Richard Della Fera for a consultation.