Curtilage | No Search Warrant | Evidence Tossed

Drug Defense Attorney on Search
Criminal Defense Attorney reports a Search and seizure occurring after an illegal entry into a residential back yard has been invalidated by an appeals court. The area surroundind a home is known as the “Curtilage.” Sometimes cops claim Exigent circumstances justify a warrantless entry. In this case, the trial court had denied a motion to suppress evidence obtained during a warrantless search of a home.

Cops responded to an anonymous tip that there were 3 black males One reportedly had a handgun, was in front of home, next to a white sports utility vehicle. Additionally a tipster said there were possibly narcotics on the hood. The court noted the police did not have authority to enter the backyard of the home to investigate.

When officers arrived, they observed an SUV present in front of home, but there was no one matching description from tip and there was no indication that a crime had been, was being, or would be committed. Since entry into the backyard was improper, the judges ruled that evidence obtained as result of an illegal entry should be suppressed. The ruling tossing out the drugs seized was issued even though cops later observed drugs in the house through a broken window. After seeing the contraband the cops had conducted an illegal sweep of the home.

Case Excerpts:

“Warrantless searches are per se unreasonable and subject to only a few exceptions. Bryan relied on Coolidge v. New Hampshire to support his position that there must be an exigent circumstance that made a warrantless search “imperative.” 403 U.S. 443, 455 (1971). Exigent circumstances have been defined as “‘the sort of emergency or dangerous situation . . . that would justify a warrantless entry into a home for the purpose of either arrest or search.’” Riggs v. State, 918 So. 2d 274, 278 (Fla. 2005). To rise to this level, the emergency must be so that it “‘makes a warrantless search imperative to the safety of the police and of the community.’” Id. Safety is threatened when a need exists “‘to protect life and to prevent serious bodily injury.’” Id. at 279.”

"Here, officers entered the curtilage of the home to investigate acting solely on an anonymous tip, only corroborated the tip to the extent that a white SUV was in front of the home, and had no indication from viewing the scene that a crime had been, was being, or would be committed. The officers were concerned that a gun and drugs were seen on the hood of the SUV, and there were children playing in the neighborhood, but when the officers arrived at the scene there did not appear to be anyone insight that may have a gun. The circumstances did not present a situation of exigent circumstances justifying intrusion into the curtilage of the house despite the fact that the SUV was parked in front. Because a warrantless search is unlawful when no exception applies and because the State did not prove through testimony or evidence that some reasonable belief of exigency existed, a warrant should have been obtained before police entry into Bryan’s backyard."

Source: 36 Fla. L. Weekly D1256a

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