The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states that people have the right "to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures," but the issue at hand here is whether this also applies to the searches of open fields and of objects in plain view and whether the fourth amendment provides protection over these as well. In order to reaffirm the courts' decision on this matter I will be relating their decisions in the cases of Oliver v. United States (1984), and California v. Greenwood (1988) which deal directly with the question of whether a person can have reasonable expectations of privacy as provided for in the fourth amendment with regards to objects in an open field or in plain view.
The differentiation between open fields and private property must be made before one can proceed to form an opinion regarding the constitutionality of a warrantless search of an open field. Oliver v. United States is a case in which police officers, acting on reports from neighbors that a patch of marijuana was being cultivated on the Oliver farm, entered on to private property ignoring "No Trespassing" signs, and on to a secluded open portion of the Oliver property without a warrant, discovered the marijuana patch and then arrested Oliver without an arrest warrant. The Maine Judicial Court held that "No Trespassing" signs posted around the Oliver property "evinced a reasonable expectation of privacy," and therefore the court held that the "open fields" doctrine was not applicable to the Oliver case.
Upon hearing the case, the Supreme Court argues that the special protections accorded by the fourth amendment do not extend to open fields. "Open fields do not provide the setting for those intimate activities that the Amendment is intended to shelter from government interference or surveillance." The court refers to the case of Hester v. United States (1924) which set the precedent for "open field cases" and interprets that case to imply that "an individual may not legitimately demand privacy for activities conducted out of doors in fields, except in the area immediately surrounding the home." The patch of marijuana being no where near the Oliver home, and in an open field, regardless of its visibility from public access, left the court affirming Oliver v. United States, and reversing the case of Thornton v. Maine, and in essence reaffirming that warrantless searches of open fields are not violations of an individual's constitutional rights, but are simply acts of common-law trespassing, which the court finds does not exceed the governments need to protect the public from illegal activity which may occur on privately owned open fields, and any expectation of privacy to mask these illegal activities are most definitely not provided for under the constitution. California v. Greenwood deals with the issue of whether or not the Fourth Amendment prohibits "the warrantless search and seizure of garbage left for collection outside the curtilage of a home." California v. Greenwood is a case in which police received reports that Greenwood was involved in narcotics trafficking. A warrantless search of the respondents trash developed evidence which corroborated this and led to Greenwood's arrest, bail, future arrest, and conviction. In this case, the lower courts and the Supreme Court agree that the Fourth Amendment does not prohibit the warrantless search and seizure of garbage outside a private residence.
The court states that the respondent "could have had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the inculpatory items they discarded." The court states that "Furthermore. . . the police cannot reasonably be expected to avert their eyes from evidence of criminal activity that could have been observed by any member of the public." Therefore, objects in plain view can not be accorded for under the Fourth Amendment for any reasonable expectation of privacy simply because of the fact...
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