Police must generally treat your yard and the entirety of your property the same way that they treat your home. According to the Fourth Amendment, this means that they are only able to access and search your home if they have a warrant issued by a judge. However, while police are typically only able to go into your home or yard with a warrant, they can look onto your property, even if there is a fence. If you would like to learn more about your rights regarding law enforcement’s ability to search your yard and property, continue reading or get in touch with the Baltimore criminal defense lawyers at the Law Offices of Randolph Rice by calling (410) 694-7291.
Police Generally Need a Warrant to Enter Your Backyard
As dictated by the Fourth Amendment, police need a warrant to search your house. This generally includes the area around your home, known as the “curtilage.” This typically protects the area directly around your house, but it also includes any land enclosed within the same fencing or other boundaries (e.g., trees or shrubs). Sometimes, with large enough property like a farm, not all of the property is included in the curtilage and does not get the same protections as the house.
If police want to search your backyard, then they will generally need a warrant issued by a judge. This warrant must include sufficient proof of probable cause, which must use specific facts and evidence to show the judge that the search is likely to return evidence of a crime. Police generally need to tell a judge what evidence they think they will find and where they will find it.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ rights to be secure from unreasonable search and seizure. A search is considered reasonable if the police have proven probable cause and it is limited in nature and scope so as to not infringe too heavily on your privacy. If police search your property without a warrant from a judge or if they go beyond the limits outlined in the warrant, then any evidence found during the search will be unable to be used against you.
When Can Police Search Your Home or Yard Without a Warrant?
Police need a warrant to search your home in most cases. However, there are exceptions that enable police to search your property or backyard without a warrant. These exceptions include the following:
- Consent – Police sometimes coerce people into consenting to searches of their home when they would not have otherwise had the right to perform the search. If police come to your door or yard and request a search, refuse to allow them access until they are able to provide a warrant. Otherwise, they will be able to search anywhere and look for anything they want.
- Plain view doctrine – If police believe that they have observed something that is contraband while still outside of your home, then they have the right to enter your property and seize that contraband item. Typically even if police cannot enter your back yard, they may be able to access your front yard, front porch, driveway, or other areas where guests commonly arrive.
- Exigent circumstances – “Exigent circumstances” means that special circumstances require timeliness with a search, which allows police to skip the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. This may mean that evidence will be lost in the time it takes to get a warrant. Typically, they can enter your home or yard when someone is in immediate danger, evidence is being destroyed, or they are chasing a fleeing suspect. Cases with exigent circumstances usually involve drug distribution crimes or weapon and guns cases.
Furthermore, police do not need a warrant to enter your backyard if you have opened the yard to the public. For example, if you are having a yard sale or open house and the gate to your yard is open, then police may come into your yard act on any evidence or criminal activity they observe. This could lead to charges for disturbing the peace, underage drinking, or drug possession.
Can Police Look into My Backyard Without a Warrant?
As mentioned above, things in your backyard fall under the “plain view doctrine.” If police officers see something illegal or notice evidence in your yard, then they may enter your yard and to seize that item. While there, they may look for other items evidence in plain view, or they can use that evidence to support a warrant for a full search.
Anything that police can see on your property while they are physically standing outside of your property is usually fair. They may look through any holes or gaps in your fence to see into your yard, ask your neighbor if they can look into your yard from their window, or even take aerial photos of your property without those acts being considered a “search” that triggers the warrant requirement.
Maryland Criminal Defense Attorney for Backyard Search and Seizure
Don’t allow law enforcement to infringe on your rights while conducting a home search. Get in touch with an attorney immediately if police walk into your backyard in Maryland. The Baltimore criminal defense attorneys at the Law Offices of Randolph Rice utilize their decades of experiences in all of their cases to help clients get treated fairly and justly. Get in touch with our attorneys today. Call (410) 694-7291 as soon as possible.