Curtilage | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Criminal Law / Procedural Law

Curtilage is the area of land immediately surrounding a dwelling that is considered to be part of the home and is protected by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.


The concept of curtilage is important in criminal law because it determines the limits of law enforcement’s authority to enter and search a person’s property without a warrant.

The determination of whether a particular area is considered curtilage is based on a number of factors, including the proximity of the area to the dwelling, the degree to which the area is enclosed or enclosed by a fence, the nature of the use of the area, and the steps taken by the homeowner to protect the area from observation.

In the case of United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 (1987), the United States Supreme Court set out a four-factor test for determining whether an area is considered curtilage:

      1. The proximity of the area to the home;
      2. Whether the area is within an enclosure surrounding the home;
      3. The nature of the uses to which the area is put;
      4. The steps taken by the homeowner to protect the area from observation.

According to the Court, these factors should be considered in determining whether an area is considered curtilage and is entitled to the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


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Last Modified: 01/09/2023

 

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