United States v. Dunn
Annotate this Case
480 U.S. 294 (1987)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 (1987)
United States v. Dunn
Argued January 20, 1987
Decided March 3, 1987
480 U.S. 294
In 1980, Drug Enforcement Administration agents, having discovered that one Carpenter had bought large quantities of chemicals and equipment used to make controlled substances, placed tracking "beepers" in some of the equipment and one of the chemical containers, which, when transported in Carpenter's truck, led the agents to respondent's ranch. Aerial photographs of the ranch showed the truck backed up to a barn behind the ranch house. The ranch was completely encircled by a perimeter fence, and contained several interior barbed wire fences, including one around the house approximately 50 yards from the barn, and a wooden fence enclosing the front of the barn, which had an open overhang and locked, waist-high gates. Without a warrant, officers crossed 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 did not enter the barn but stopped at the locked gate and shined a flashlight inside, observing what they took to be a drug laboratory. They then left the ranch, but entered it twice the next day to confirm the laboratory's presence. They obtained a search warrant and executed it, arresting respondent and seizing chemicals and equipment, as well as bags of amphetamines they discovered in the house. After the District Court denied respondent's motion to suppress all evidence seized pursuant to the warrant, respondent and Carpenter were convicted of conspiracy to manufacture controlled substances and related offenses. However, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the barn was within the residence's curtilage, and therefore within the Fourth Amendment's protective ambit.
1. The area near the barn is not within the curtilage of the house for Fourth Amendment purposes. Extent-of-curtilage questions should be resolved with particular reference to the following four factors, at least to the extent that they bear upon whether the area claimed to be curtilage is so intimately tied to the home itself that it should be placed under the home's "umbrella" of protection: (1) the proximity of the area to the home; (2) whether the area is within an enclosure surrounding the home; (3) the nature and uses to which the area is put; and (4) the steps taken
by the resident to protect the area from observation by passersby. Applying the first factor to the instant case, the barn's substantial distance from the fence surrounding the house (50 yards) and from the house itself (60 yards) supports no inference that it should be treated as an adjunct of the house. Second, the barn did not lie within the fence surrounding the house, which plainly demarks the area that is part and parcel of the house, but stands out as a distinct and separate portion of the ranch. Third, it is especially significant that the officers possessed objective data indicating that the barn was not being used as part of respondent's home, in that the aerial photographs showed that Carpenter's truck was backed up to the barn, apparently to unload its contents, which included the chemical container, and the officers detected strong chemical odors coming from, and heard a motor running in, the barn. Fourth, respondent did little to protect the barn area from observation by those standing outside, the ranch's fences being of the type used to corral livestock, not to ensure privacy. Pp. 480 U. S. 300-303.
2. Respondent's contention that, because the barn is essential to his business, he possessed an expectation of privacy in it and its contents independent from his home's curtilage, is without merit. Even assuming that the barn could not be entered lawfully without a warrant, respondent's argument ignores the fact that, prior to obtaining the warrant, the officers never entered the barn, but conducted their observations from the surrounding open fields after crossing over respondent's ranch-style fences. The Court's prior decisions have established that the Government's intrusion upon open fields is not an unreasonable search; that the erection of fences on an open field -- at least of the type involved here -- does not create a constitutionally protected privacy interest; that warrantless naked-eye observation of an area protected by the Fourth Amendment is not unconstitutional; and that shining a flashlight into a protected area, without probable cause to search the area, is permissible. Pp. 480 U. S. 303-305.
782 F.2d 1226, reversed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BLACKMUN, POWELL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined, and in all but the paragraph headed "Third" in Part II of which SCALIA, J., joined. SCALIA, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, post, p. 480 U. S. 305. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 480 U. S. 305.
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