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Can the Police Occupy My Property?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on March 30, 2015 10:52 AM

A recent case has people wondering if, how, and when police officers can use their property, including their house, to stage law enforcement operations.

A Henderson, NV family claimed officers violated the Third Amendment ("[n]o Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner") by occupying their homes to investigate a domestic dispute at a neighbor's house. A federal court found that, while officers may have committed some other constitutional violations, the amendment didn't apply because the officers were not soldiers.

So is there any limit to when the police can use your property as a base of operations?

No Third Amendment Protection

The District Court in Nevada dismissed the families' Third Amendment claims because it did not consider municipal police officers as soldiers:

I hold that a municipal police officer is not a soldier for purposes of the Third Amendment. This squares with the purpose of the Third Amendment because this was not a military intrusion into a private home, and thus the intrusion is more effectively protected by the Fourth Amendment. Because I hold that municipal officers are not soldiers for the purposes of this question, I need not reach the question of whether the occupation at issue in this case constitutes quartering, though I suspect it would not.

Therefore, it seems likely that the police would have significant leeway in setting up a base of operations on a citizen's private property. It's generally agreed upon that officers may set up speed traps on private property, including driveways, to monitor public highways.

Fourth or Fifth Amendment Protection?

The Fourth Amendment prohibits "unreasonable searches and seizures," a may cover officers occupying private property. Weather officers' presence on private property is unreasonable would likely come down to the property owner's "reasonable expectation of privacy." This determination that could depend on whether officers are inside an owner's home, which carries a higher privacy expectation, or outside where the expectation of privacy is lessened.

The Fifth Amendment's Eminent Domain Clause bars the government from taking personal property for public use without "just compensation." Although courts have expanded the definition of a taking to beyond the forced sale of a home, it remains to be seen whether police officers temporarily occupying private property would apply under the amendment.

If police have parked themselves on your property, and you have objections, you may want to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney to see if it's legal.

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