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Squatters Have No 4th Amendment Rights, Rules Mich. Ct.

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on July 01, 2011 7:03 AM

The Michigan Court of Appeals has ruled against Lonnell Antwine, a Hamtramck man who claimed that his 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure were violated when police conducted a warrantless search of his condemned home.

The ruling, which is based on a line of 8th Circuit and Supreme Court decisions, can be said to leave squatters who occupy condemned and abandoned property with little rights.

Lonnell Antwine was living in his home though it had been condemned and affixed with a notice stating that it was unlawful to occupy the building.

After being alerted to his presence, police knocked on his door and were invited in. They then conducted a search of the entire house without Antwine's consent.

Upon finding crack cocaine, they obtained a search warrant.

Antwine's main contention has been that, because he did not grant permission for officers to move beyond the initial space into which they were invited, they illegally searched his home.

A warrantless search is unreasonable under the 4th Amendment only when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.

This comes down to (1) whether the person had a subjective expectation of privacy, and (2) whether society would recognize that belief as reasonable.

In finding that society would not recognize Antwine's expectation of privacy, the court pointed to the legal status of condemned buildings.

Condemned property, for the purposes of the law, is abandoned property, and once officers determine that a person is there illegally, it is reasonable for them to secure and search the home.

Additionally, the Supreme Court has previously found that "wrongful presence weighs against a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Moving beyond Lonnell Antwine, at the most basic level, this ruling states that a person who occupies a condemned building has no privacy rights, even if he is technically owns the property, or considers it his home.

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