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Warrants Required for Driveway Searches: Minnesota Court Rules

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By Ceylan Pumphrey, Esq. on March 16, 2018 3:00 PM

Under the Fourth Amendment, law enforcement needs probable cause in order to conduct a legal search. In general, officers must first obtain a warrant before conducting a search. There are also certain facts and circumstances in which police can search without a warrant, although probable cause is still required. Generally, however, a person's house can't be searched without a warrant. The Minnesota Supreme Court has decided that driveways are also protected from warrantless searches under the Fourth Amendment.

The Case That Led to This Decision

Quentin Todd Chute was charged with receiving stolen property after police went down his driveway to the back of his property to look at a camper that was parked there. Upon inspection, the police came to the conclusion that the camper matched the description of a stolen camper. Chute was subsequently convicted of receiving stolen property.

Driveway Is Protected Under the Fourth Amendment

According to prosecutors, the entry on Chute's driveway was lawful "because it's too far from the house to count as curtilage." For clarification, "curtilage" refers to the area that's immediately around the home that receives Fourth Amendment protection. The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, disagreed with prosecutors ruling that police can only enter the curtilage of a home to knock on the door when there isn't a search warrant.

Writing for the majority, Justice Margaret Chutich stated that the camper was parked in the back of Chute's house, which had fences on three sides. According to the ruling, in order for the officer to inspect the camper, he had to deviate from the path that led to the front door; at which point, the officer needed a search warrant. It was the opinion of the court that "[v]iewed objectively, the evidence demonstrates that the officer's purpose for entering the curtilage was to conduct a search."

There are certain procedures that police officers must follow during an investigation and arrest of a suspected criminal. If you've been arrested for a crime, or have already been charged, it's important to contact an attorney to ensure that your rights weren't violated in the process.

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