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Do Police Need A Warrant To Search Your Front Porch Or Apartment Hallway?

On Behalf of | Dec 22, 2015 | Drug Charges

When you face criminal charges, an experienced attorney should carefully review the circumstances of your arrest. If the police violated your rights during a search and seizure — or at any other stage of the case — there may be grounds for a dismissal. This means your lawyer could potentially get your case thrown out entirely.

I recently had a case involving a “concerned citizen” who informed the police my client was allegedly selling marijuana from his apartment. The police obtained a key to the common hallway from the landlord and conducted a dog sniff at the client’s threshold. The canine alerted to the area in front of my client’s door and police used this information along with the snitches’ tip to obtain a warrant to search his apartment. However, I believed that the hallway canine search was an illegal search, per the Fourth Amendment.

A warrant was necessary for police to conduct this canine search — the police cannot simply perform the canine search to justify a warrant to get into my client’s apartment. However, when I suggested this to the Assistant County Attorney, she balked insisting that the much lower Reasonable Articulable Suspicion (RAS) standard was all that was required to conduct the canine search and that police had that based on the snitches’ tip. WRONG.

The County Attorney’s position was based on the 2007 Minnesota Supreme Court case of State v. Davis, wherein the Court held that police only needed RAS to believe someone was engaged in illegal drug activity, allowing them to conduct a warrantless dog sniff in a common hallway outside the defendant’s door. However, this is no longer the law of the land.

In 2012, the United States Supreme Court held in Florida v. Jardines that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy on the porch of their home as it was part of the constitutionally protected curtilage of a home. While your porch may be open to the public for the mailman to deliver mail or the Girl Scouts to sell you cookies, it is not an invitation for police to conduct a search.

The only question left to be answered in my case was whether a threshold of an apartment in the common hallway of an apartment building should be afforded the same protection as the porch of a home. In 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit effectively answered the question in United States v. Davis. That case involved a search of a threshold in an apartment hallway. The district court denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss because it held that while the search violated the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights as articulated in Jardines, the police operated in good faith in believing that such a search was justified.

Minnesota does not and never has adopted the “Good Faith” exception to the search warrant requirement. The moral of the story is that merely because a prosecutor believes that the police acted legally, there is no substitute for doing the research and proving them wrong. Evidence suppressed. Case dismissed.

If you find yourself facing criminal charges after a police search, talk to an experienced lawyer about your rights and options. Neither the police nor the prosecutors are going to tell you that your rights were violated and that the case should be dropped.

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