Open Field Doctrine the Fourth Amendment Is Research Paper

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Open Field Doctrine

The Fourth Amendment is one of the most important and hotly contested and debated amendment within the Bill of Rights to the United State Constitution. Many people focus on the First and Second amendment. The Fourth Amendment, when discussed, usually comes up when speaking of house/car searches and whether warrants are needed and how they can and should be procured. Interpretations of the Fourth Amendment have led to greatly enhanced and expanded rules of evidence that dictate that illicitly gained evidence, even if incriminating, will be excluded if the search that led to its discovery was improper. There has also been allowance for people to be read their "Miranda rights," as a response to the legal appeal brought by Ernesto Miranda and other defendants that gave confessions to police while not first being warned that they the right to remain silient and/or retain/consult counsel prior to being interview by police for any reason, usually as it pertains to being detained or arrested.

However, another facet of the debate and argument has pertained to how to handle the open fields and other types of similar property and what police are and are not allowed to do when no warrant exists. Topics surrounding that as well as what defines probably cause, what property rights do/do not include and so forth are all relevant. Basically, the Open Fields Doctrine dictates (based on the Fourth Amendment in conjunction with Supreme Court and appellate precedent since then) that the burden of proof/probable cause necessary to enter/inspect open fields and other land without a warrant or the explicit consent of the land owner/renter is a lot lower than it would be for a house, business or vehicle.

What follows in this report is a thorough literature review that covers the subject of the Open Field doctrine and how the issue as evolved and changed since it first become prominent as a Fourth Amendment topic.


Research Topic Description

This research will provide an insight on the differences between "Open Fields Doctrine" and "Plain View Doctrine." "Open Fields Doctrine"

provides officer's the autonomy to gain guidance on the 4th Amendment limitations in reference to open fields on private lands. In the general sense of terminology officers are permitted to enter open fields on private property for investigatory purposes because they are 'privileged' and cannot be charged with trespass except under certain circumstances. One of the circumstances in which privileged entry occurs is when conservation law enforcement officers acting in performance of their duties to uphold the public trust of wildlife. The United States federal law has designated wildlife as a public trust resource. This rule legally ensures that while land and property can be owned by private citizens, the same is not true of wildlife as they are actually not owned by any individuals. They are held in trust for the benefit of the public at large.

Therefore, specific regulations are proscribed for citizens who participate in hunting, fishing, and trapping wildlife, which give conservation law enforcement officers the authority to enforce these regulations on private land in open fields. These law enforcement officers are charged with protecting the public resource and thus do not violate the U.S. Constitution when entering open fields on private property for the purpose of performing their statutory duties. This is what separates "Open Fields Doctrine" from "Plain View Doctrine"

wherein officers must view items from a public space such as viewing from a public sidewalk guns in a home or narcotics on a dashboard during a routine traffic stop. In addition the object must be in plain view, which is in contrast to "Open Fields Doctrine" that enables law enforcement officers working on behalf of the conservation department to enter private lands to inspect and enforce regulations.

Importance of Topic

"Open Fields Doctrine" is necessary because unlike "Plain View Doctrine" that encompasses private personal property such as guns, drugs, or other items that are personal, the items that are sought with this doctrine are a public trust. Therefore, when someone is caught illegally hunting, fishing, or trapping on their own private property by investigators who deliberately came to this private property without probable cause or seeing any indications that illegal activity was occurring such as in plain view, it is still legal because the individual is attacking public items owned by the public. He or she does not have an individual right to these items even if he or she kills them, wildlife is still a public trust while in the possession of a private citizen. Therefore, the public officials charged with enforcing the regulations to ensure that this public trust is protected can enter private property during the commission of their statutory duties.

Literature Review Method

The secondary data method of collection is used as there is observation and a research of various reports as available on web, researches by other bodies & decisions of the various courts been studied and reviewed in terms of criminal laws and provisions; Once the information is collected from secondary sources through web, different interpretations being resulted after employing the reasoning. This is going to be the most important tool in the final stages to arrive at a conclusion.

Literature Review

United States

There is a wide array of case law and literature available on the Open Field doctrine and the broader topic of the Fourth Amendment and its various interpretations and enforcements. As with most portions and parts of the various Bill of Rights amendments, the scope and reach of each sentence and clause has had to be defined so as to apply it to real-world cases and situations and the Open Field doctrine is no different. The cases Oliver v. United States 5 and Hester v. United States 6 established that "open fields" are not included when discussing the "unreasonable search and seizure" provision of the Fourth Amendment. This holds true even if the entrance into said open field would normally be trespassing under common law. As long as the entrant is privileged to do so, they are not running afoul the Fourth Amendment and, as such, anything discovered as a result is not subject to exclusion from evidence and consideration, at least not for that particular reason/event.

Even so, it has to be defined with an "open field" is pursuant to the provisions above, and there is also Supreme Court precedent that defines that as well. United States v. Dunn 7 held that "open fields" are unoccupied or undeveloped areas outside the area immediately next to a house or other dwelling, the latter of which is commonly known as curtilage. For example, if a house is on a piece of land and the house is enclosed by a chain link fence, that entire area inside that fence but outside the house is curtilage but anything outside of that same fence is not. If there is an open field directly bordering the curtilage, the area within the fence is protected (as is the house) under the Fourth Amendment but the adjacent field would not be. As such, a police (or other peace officer) would need no warrant or consent from the homeowner/landowner or renter before making entry and/or inspecting the area.

A few other conditions and facts have to be put into context. Driveways and garages are generally treated as curtilage whereas the erection/posting of signs that forbid trespassing do not override the provisions above related to open fields. Similarly, if a police (or other peace) officer is in an open field and spots something illegal or otherwise suspicious (even if the act under scrutiny is in a Fourth Amendment-protected area), the search/entry subsequent to that observation is not forbidden and any evidence so procured is generally not disallowed. The aforementioned Dunn case was decided based on the premise that police officers in an open field and spotted an illicit drug lab in a barn that was on protected property. The overarching question answered in that case was whether the officer's presence in the open field was grounds for the discovery of the barn being thrown out. The Dunn case was decided in favor of the police officers. The court held that even though the officers were already on the assailants land when the discovery was made and even though they only saw the drug lab in the barn because of this (which led to them entering the curtilage subsequent to that discovery, which involved climbing the fence at the edge of the curtilage), the evidence and convictions were not stricken since the discover itself was righteous and was not done while the Fourth Amendment was being violated.

Some states explicitly recognize and embrace the Open Field doctrine. One of those states is Arizona. Two of the relevant cases for that state are State v. Caldwell and State v. Platt. Caldwell involved a marijuana press that was clearly within the curtilage of a home but some "bricks" of marijuana that were several hundred yards from the home, and therefore…[continue]

Some Sources Used in Document:


Cite This Research Paper:

"Open Field Doctrine The Fourth Amendment Is" (2012, December 13) Retrieved October 27, 2016, from

"Open Field Doctrine The Fourth Amendment Is" 13 December 2012. Web.27 October. 2016. <>

"Open Field Doctrine The Fourth Amendment Is", 13 December 2012, Accessed.27 October. 2016,

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