Curtilage refers to the area around your home, including yards, patios, and porches. Generally, the curtilage is an extension of your home, which makes it off limits to police officers wishing to search in these areas. Since you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in these areas, officers may not conduct a search in them without first getting a search warrant signed by a judge.
However, there are exceptions to this general rule. If officers are legally present in those areas, they are free to observe illegal activities and act accordingly. For instance, if police are responding to a 911 call, they are present on official police business and can take reasonable steps to locate the property owner or the person who called 911 for assistance.
Police also legally can look at what is in plain view in your backyard, such as if it is surrounded by a chain link fence or no fence at all. Likewise, if there is a pathway leading to an open gate to the back yard, then police may be able to follow the open pathway if no one answers the front door of the home.
Furthermore, the airspace above your home and curtilage is generally open to the public. As a result, police theoretically could use a drone to view your backyard without intruding on your rights to a reasonable expectation of privacy.
If you install a tall wood privacy fence surrounding your backyard, then you are creating a reasonable expectation of privacy that officers cannot breach without a search warrant. In other words, the police would not be free to enter through a closed gate to enter the backyard.
You also have the right to tell police to leave your home or curtilage if they do not have a warrant. Certainly, they can return to your home or yard with a valid search warrant, but there is no reason that you should allow them to skirt the rules and violate your constitutional rights.
If you or a family member is facing any criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 359-3362 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.