Oliver v. United States
Annotate this Case
466 U.S. 170 (1984)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170 (1984)
Oliver v. United States
Argued November 9, 1983
Decided April 17, 1984*
466 U.S. 170
In No. 82-15, acting on reports that marihuana was being raised on petitioner's farm, narcotics agents of the Kentucky State Police went to the farm to investigate. Arriving at the farm, they drove past petitioner's house to a locked gate with a "No Trespassing" sign, but with a footpath around one side. The agents then walked around the gate and along the road and found a field of marihuana over a mile from petitioner's house. Petitioner was arrested and indicted for "manufactur[ing]" a "controlled substance" in violation of a federal statute. After a pretrial hearing, the District Court suppressed evidence of the discovery of the marihuana field, applying Katz v. United States, 389 U. S. 347, and holding that petitioner had a reasonable expectation that the field would remain private and that it was not an "open" field that invited casual intrusion. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that Katz had not impaired the vitality of the open fields doctrine of Hester v. United States, 265 U. S. 57, which permits police officers to enter and search a field without a warrant. In No. 82-1273, after receiving a tip that marihuana was being grown in the woods behind respondent's residence, police officers entered the woods by a path between the residence and a neighboring house, and followed a path through the woods until they reached two marihuana patches fenced with chicken wire and having "No Trespassing" signs. Later, the officers, upon determining that the patches were on respondent's property, obtained a search warrant and seized the marihuana. Respondent was then arrested and indicted. The Maine trial court granted respondent's motion to suppress the fruits of the second search, holding that the initial warrantless search was unreasonable, that the "No Trespassing" signs and secluded location of the marihuana patches evinced a reasonable expectation of privacy, and that therefore the open fields doctrine did not apply. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed.
Held: The open fields doctrine should be applied in both cases to determine whether the discovery or seizure of the marihuana in question was valid. Pp. 466 U. S. 176-184.
(a) That doctrine was founded upon the explicit language of the Fourth Amendment, whose special protection accorded to "persons houses, papers, and effects" does "not exten[d] to the open fields." Hester v. United States, supra, at 265 U. S. 59. Open fields are not "effects" within the meaning of the Amendment, the term "effects" being less inclusive than "property," and not encompassing open fields. The government's intrusion upon open fields is not one of those "unreasonable searches" proscribed by the Amendment. Pp. 466 U. S. 176-177.
(b) Since Katz v. United States, supra, the touchstone of Fourth Amendment analysis has been whether a person has a "constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy." Id. at 389 U. S. 360. The Amendment does not protect the merely subjective expectation of privacy, but only those "expectation[s] that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable.'" Id. at 389 U. S. 361. Because open fields are accessible to the public and the police in ways that a home, office, or commercial structure would not be, and because fences or "No Trespassing" signs do not effectively bar the public from viewing open fields, the asserted expectation of privacy in open fields is not one that society recognizes as reasonable. Moreover, the common law, by implying that only the land immediately surrounding and associated with the home warrants the Fourth Amendment protections that attach to the home, conversely implies that no expectation of privacy legitimately attaches to open fields. Pp. 466 U. S. 177-181.
(c) Analysis of the circumstances of the search of an open field on a case-by-case basis to determine whether reasonable expectations of privacy were violated would not provide a workable accommodation between the needs of law enforcement and the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment. Such an ad hoc approach not only would make it difficult for the policeman to discern the scope of his authority, but also would create the danger that constitutional rights would be arbitrarily and inequitably enforced. Pp. 466 U. S. 181-182.
(d) Steps taken to protect privacy, such as planting the marihuana on secluded land and erecting fences and "No Trespassing" signs around the property, do not establish that expectations of privacy in an open field are legitimate in the sense required by the Fourth Amendment. The test of legitimacy is not whether the individual chooses to conceal assertedly "private" activity, but whether the government's intrusion infringes upon the personal and societal values protected by the Amendment. The fact that the government's intrusion upon an open field is a trespass at common law does not make it a "search" in the constitutional sense. In the case of open fields, the general rights of property protected by the common law of trespass have little or no relevance to the applicability of the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 466 U. S. 182-184.
686 F.2d 356, affirmed; 453 A.2d 489, reversed and remanded.
POWELL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in Parts I and II of which WHITE, J., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 466 U. S. 184. MARSHALL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BRENNAN and STEVENS, JJ., joined, post p. 466 U. S. 184.