In Florida, in order for the police to have a right to search a person’s house, they normally will need a valid search warrant signed by a judge. Police typically obtain a search warrant for a person’s house after conducting surveillance and observing drug related activity at the house or having a confidential informant go to the house to make drug buys. Once the police obtain the search warrant for the house, are they limited to searching inside the house in areas where illegal drugs can be stored or can they search other areas outside, but near, the house?
Many search warrants for someone’s house will also include what is called the curtilage of the house. The obvious questions becomes: What is within the curtilage of the home to be searched? Curtilage is not specifically defined in Florida law, and it depends on the nature of the property. However, the general definition of curtilage is the area around the home that is intimately tied to the home. The factors a criminal court would look at to determine if something is within the curtilage of the home are: how close the area searched was to the house, whether the area searched was enclosed near the home, how that particular area is used at the home and what steps, if any, the homeowner took to protect the privacy of the area.
Therefore, one can assume this includes the driveway of the home and a fenced-in backyard. If there is no fence at the house, the curtilage still likely includes the immediate area around the house.
In a recent case south of Jacksonville, Florida, the defendant was arrested on drug and gun charges after police searched his vehicle that was parked outside a friend’s house. The police had a search warrant for the residence that included vehicles within the curtilage of the home. The defendant’s vehicle was parked on the street just beyond the driveway. The defendant did not live at the residence. The police searched his vehicle and found guns and illegal drugs inside.
The criminal defense lawyer for the defendant filed a motion to suppress the gun and drugs arguing that the police did not have a right to search the car that was parked outside the home, but on the street. The court agreed and threw out the gun and drug charges. Because the defendant’s car was parked on the street, as opposed to the driveway or elsewhere on the property, it was not within the curtilage of the home and the search warrant did not authorize the police to search it.