Open Fields Doctrine and Its Relevance to Essay

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Open Fields Doctrine and Its Relevance to the U.S. Constitution

What is the open fields doctrine?

According to the definition provided by Black's Law Dictionary (1990), the open fields doctrine "permits police officers to enter and search a field without a warrant. The term 'open fields' may include any unoccupied or undeveloped area outside of the curtilage (Oliver v. U.S., 466 U.S. 170, 104 S.Ct., 1735" (1091). For the purposes of searches and seizures, the term curtilage refers to "those outbuildings which are directly and intimately connected with the habitation and in proximity thereto and the land or grounds surrounding the dwelling which are necessary and convenient and habitually used for family purposes and carrying on domestic employment" (Black's, 384). In Dow Chemical v. United States, 476 U.S. 227, 106, S.Ct. 1819, Chief Justice Burger likewise pointed out that, "The open areas of an industrial plant complex are not analogous to the "curtilage" of a dwelling, which is entitled to protection as a place where the occupants have a reasonable and legitimate expectation of privacy that society is prepared to accept" (476 U.S. 227, 2).


Evolution of the open fields doctrine in the United States (due process, unreasonable searches, etc.)

According to Bradley, there has always been a need to formulate "clear rules" for criminal procedures, a need that is especially pronounced in those cases where the need to give the police guidelines as to how to behave in different situations involves constitutional rights. For example, in United States v. Oliver, 466 U.S. 170 (1984), the Court cited the need for clear rules based on the state's search of a posted and fenced field that was located more than a mile away from his domicile. The defendant in Oliver, who was growing marijuana in the field, argued against a fixed open fields doctrine that always exempts fields from the coverage of the Fourth Amendment and that citizens' reasonable expectations for privacy should be taken into account on a case by case basis. In this regard, the Court in Oliver reasoned that:

[A] case-by-case approach [would not] provide a workable accommodation between the needs of law enforcement and the interests protected by the Fourth Amendment. Under this approach, police officers would have to guess before every search whether landowners had erected fences sufficiently high, posted a sufficient number of warning signs, or located contraband in an area sufficiently secluded to establish a right of privacy. The lawfulness of each search would depend on a 'highly sophisticated set of rules, qualified by all sorts of ifs, ands and buts and requiring the drawing of subtle nuances and hairline distinctions' (181).

In recent years, there has been some uncertainty concerning the interpretation of the open fields doctrine developed in Hester v. United States. In Hester, the Court adopted a so-called per se rule that meant the protections of the Fourth Amendment do not apply to open fields, but a later decision concerning the open fields doctrine appears to conflict with the Hester interpretation. For instance, in Katz v. United States (389 U.S. 347, 1967). In Katz, the Court held that the "Fourth Amendment protects people, not places" and that the appropriate test of Fourth Amendment protections was to determine if the citizen enjoyed a reasonable expectation of privacy that could be "justifiably relied upon" (Godley, 1984, 253). These apparent differences in interpretation were resolved when the Supreme Court published its decision in Oliver v. United States (Id). In Oliver v. United States 466 U.S. 170 (1984), the Supreme Court's reasonable expectation of privacy analysis contained in Katz v. United States (389 U.S. 347, 1967) was changed and Katz diverged from the Court's previous holdings in Olmstead v. United States 277 U.S. 438 (1928) and Goldman v. United States 316 U.S. 129 (1942) by rationalizing that the Fourth Amendment protects privacy regardless of whether there was a technical criminal trespass by law enforcement authorities (Saltzburg, 133).


Brief introduction of pros for the open field doctrine, such as criminal deterrence, punishment fits the crime.

Bradley reports that in Dunaway v. New York, 442 U.S. 200, 213-14 (1979).the Court argued that clear rules were needed by police who were routinely confronted with potentially life-threatening situations that call for split-second decisions. In Dunaway, the Court emphasized that, "A single familiar standard is essential to guide police officers, who have only limited time and expertise to reflect on and balance the social and individual interests involved in the specific circumstances they confront." It is important to note, though, that the Court has not always relied on this reasoning. Before the criminal procedure revolution, the Court frequently emphasized that "there is no formula for the determination of reasonableness. Each case is to be decided on its own facts and circumstances" (Go-Bart Importing Co. v. United States 282 U.S. 344, 357 (1931) (Craig M. Bradley, The Failure of the Criminal Procedure Revolution, 1993, p. 77).


Brief introduction of cons for the open field doctrine, such as the Fourth Amendment, statistical bias and due process inconsistencies. The open fields doctrine may be interpreted differently by law enforcement authorities in different jurisdictions in ways that unfairly target minorities, erode due process requirements and other Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. For instance, in Oliver, the District Court for the Western District of Kentucky found that Oliver had a reasonable expectation that the fields would remain private considering the posting of "No Trespassing" signs as well as the installation of a locked gate. The law enforcement authorities in this case simply walked around the locked barrier to pursue their investigation. According to Godley, though, "In examining the highly secluded nature of the marijuana fields, the court noted that these were not 'open fields' that invited casual intrusion" (254).

Financial costs


Cost of hearings, processes, lawyers, etc. Although every case is different, most defense lawyers would likely recommend retaining a private attorney because of the potential for maximum punishments being handed down in open fields doctrine cases. According to one defense attorney, "The police may claim that they are allowed to access the property under the Open Fields Doctrine. However, a police officer's misunderstanding of the law should not cost you your freedom. Trafficking in marijuana carries mandatory minimum prison time and fines. If you don't fight your charges, you could end up serving mandatory day-for-day prison time" (Mahoney, 2013, 3). In the opens field doctrine case Giddens v. The State (156 Ga. App. 258, 274 SE 2d 595, 1980), for instance, the defendant was convicted of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine of $5,000 (the last 4 years of the sentence were to be served on probation upon payment of the fine and costs of $3,032.30 and other conditions).


Cost of appeal process. Some law firms provide pro bono legal services for meritorious Fourth Amendment actions before the Supreme Court. For clients otherwise seeking legal assistance for open-field related cases, a review of the prices charged by attorneys at law and law firms shows that these vary regionally in the United States but typically range from $75 to $500 per hour. Besides these legal fees, the U.S. Court of Appeals Miscellaneous Fee Structure sets forth the following costs associated with appeals:

1. For docketing a case on appeal or review, or docketing any other proceeding, $450.

2. For conducting a search of the court of appeals records, $30 per name or item searched.

3. For certification of any document, $11.

4. For reproducing any document, $.50 per page.

5. For reproducing recordings of proceedings, regardless of the medium, $30, including the cost of materials.

6. For reproducing the record in any appeal in which the court of appeals does not require an appendix pursuant to FED. R. APP. P.30(f), $83.

7. For retrieving a record from a Federal Records Center, National Archives, or other storage location removed from the place of business of the court, $53.

8. For a check paid into the court which is returned for lack of funds, $53.

9. For copies of opinions, a fee commensurate with the cost of printing, as fixed by each court.

10. For copies of the local rules of court, a fee commensurate with the cost of distributing the copies. The court may also distribute copies of the local rules without charge.

11. For filing any separate or joint notice of appeal or application for appeal from the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, $5; a notice of the allowance of an appeal from the Bankruptcy Appellate Panel, $5.

12. For counsel's requested use of the court's videoconferencing equipment in connection with each oral argument, the court may charge and collect a fee of $200 per remote location.

13. For original admission of an attorney to practice, including a certificate of admission, $176. For a duplicate certificate of admission or certificate of good standing, $18.

Research pertaining to effectiveness and ineffectiveness of the open fields doctrine.


Research to support…[continue]

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