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When Can NJ Police Search Yards and Curtilage?

private lawn

If you feel you have been subjected to an improper search of your yard, porch or other curtilage to your home or business, the lawyers at Villani & DeLuca are here to help protect your rights. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution protects individuals like you from unreasonable searches of your property by law enforcement. This protection does not only include your home, but extends to areas that lie in close proximity to your home, like your yard and porch – commonly referred to as “curtilage”. The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey possess the experience and knowledge needed to handle curtilage searches.

What is “Curtilage”?

Under New Jersey law, “curtilage” is defined as any property that lies in close proximity to your home, but not specifically inside the home. It includes areas like a porch or garage. It also includes such areas where you have an expectation of privacy, like an enclosed backyard. These areas cannot be searched without a properly executed search warrant. Under New Jersey law, there are four factors which are used to determine whether property represents curtilage to a property:

  • How close the area lies to the dwelling;
  • Whether the area is enclosed or covered (like a porch);
  • Whether the use of the property is tied to activities of the home; and
  • The existence of efforts to block the area from plain view (like a fence or other enclosure).

It should be noted that, while your rights for improper searches in these areas is protected, any incriminating evidence present in this area that is in plain view to the general public can be used as evidence against you without the need for a search warrant.

Procurement of a Search Warrant in NJ

In order to properly search any of these areas defined as curtilage, the police first must obtain a search warrant. The police must follow the strict guidelines that are imposed in conjunction with how a warrant is obtained and how the search is conducted or the search may be deemed illegal. In order for the police to obtain a search warrant, the following must occur:

  • The law enforcement officer must appear before a judge and must present facts that establishes sufficient grounds for a search;
  • Grounds for a search of curtilage exists where there is probable cause to believe that property exists which has been obtained illegally, property that is intended for use in connection with illegal activity, or property constituting evidence of any illegal activity.
  • If the judge deems there are sufficient grounds to grant the search warrant, the judge will then sign an order identifying the specific persons and place to be searched and property to be seized, and identifying the specific times when the search may be executed.

A search may be deemed illegal if it does not comply with these specific guidelines.

Proper Execution of a Search Warrant

In addition to the steps outlined in the warrant, there are a series of steps that law enforcement offers must always follow when executing a search warrant and searching curtilage:

  • Police must knock and announce their presence prior to entering any curtilage, unless they have procured a “no knock” warrant with sufficient grounds to do so;
  • Police may then enter the premises;
  • The police should then advise the appropriate individuals of the warrant and provide them with a copy of the search warrant;
  • The police must read Miranda warnings to the appropriate individuals prior to any questioning;
  • Then the police may proceed with the search provided for in the warrant; and
  • Any and all evidence seized must be accounted for in an inventory prepared by the police.

A search may be deemed illegal if it does not comply with these specific guidelines.

Defending Curtilage Cases

If you find yourself in a situation where you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense following a search of curtilage, contact an experienced attorney to fight your case. The attorneys at Villani & DeLuca possess the knowledge and experience needed to properly defend a case involving the search of curtilage.

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