Saturday, March 28, 2015

Improper search of host's backyard violates guest's Fourth Amendment rights

Stephen J. Atherton won in State v. Talkington, No. 107,596 (Kan. March 6, 2015), affirming Judge Larson's suppression order in a Lyon County drug prosecution.  The COA had held that the search in this case did not take place within the curtilage of a house and therefore reversed.  The KSC noted recent SCOTUS Fourth Amendment jurisprudence that clarified that a traditional property-based understanding to the Fourth Amendment is now part of the analysis, in addition to the reasonable expectation of privacy understanding, but based on the arguments presented, primarily made a traditional curtilage analysis:
To summarize, while the lack of a privacy fence weighs somewhat in favor of the State, the no trespassing and no solicitation signs, the lack of a path leading to the backyard, the inability to see the area from a public vantage point coupled with the attempt to conceal the baggie, and the partial enclosure all weigh in favor of the district court's finding of curtilage. Accordingly, we hold the panel should have affirmed the district court's finding the factor favored Talkington.
The KSC held that the COA had improperly engaged in its own factfinding regarding some of these factors:
As discussed above, the panel reweighed the evidence and failed to consider some of the factual findings relied on by the district court concerning each Dunn factor. These factual findings are significant because they weighed in favor of a finding of curtilage. While the panel was free to reach a de novo conclusion whether the factors individually and collectively suggested the area was curtilage, it needed to first apply a substantial competent evidence standard to the district court's factual findings by accepting as true all inferences to be drawn from the evidence which support or tend to support the findings.

While the unkempt nature of the backyard, the lack of enclosed fencing, and the lack of obstructions to view the backyard may suggest the area was not curtilage, the contraband's close proximity to the back porch steps, the partial enclosure by the rock wall/treeline and chain-link fence, the no trespassing/no solicitation signs on the house, the inability to see the area from a public vantage point, and the lack of a sidewalk or path leading to the backyard weigh in favor of a finding of curtilage. Accordingly, the panel erred in reversing because the district court's findings of facts were supported by substantial competent evidence, and caselaw supports its legal conclusion that the area was curtilage.
Finally, the KSC held that a social guest has "standing" to raise a Fourth Amendment claim regarding the host's house's curtilage.  As a result, the KSC affirmed the suppression order.

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