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United States v. Dunn


DEA agents suspected the defendant of manufacturing controlled substances on his ranch. The ranch was completely encircled by a perimeter fence, and contained several interior barbed wire fences, including one around the house approximately fifty yards from the barn, and a wooden, corral fence enclosing the front of the barn. The barn had an open overhang and locked, waist high gates. Agents, without a warrant, climbed over the perimeter fence, several of the barbed wire fences, and the wooden fence in front of the barn. They were led there by the smell of chemicals, and while there, could hear a motor running inside. They shined a flashlight inside and observed a drug lab. Using this information, the agents obtained and executed a search warrant.


Whether the officers’ observations were made in the open field?


Yes. The officers did not intrude upon an area where the defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy, nor did they intrude upon a constitutionally protected area. (the defendant’s person, house, papers or effects).


The Court held that it will consider four factors in determining if an area is in the open field or curtilage:

1) Proximity of the area to the home;
2) Whether the area is within an enclosure that also surrounds the home;
3) The nature and use to which the area is put; and,
4) Steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by passers-by.

The Court held that the defendant did not establish the area surrounding his barn as curtilage. Therefore, the officers’ intrusion into this area was not a search. Also, the warrantless naked-eye observation of an area in which a reasonable expectation of privacy exists is not a search; nor is the shining of a flashlight into an area of reasonable expectation of privacy.


480 U.S. 294, 107 S. Ct. 1134 (1987)

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