The U.S. Supreme Court has decided that people who live in apartments don’t have quite as many rights as those who live in homes, declining to intervene in a case challenging the arrest, without a warrant, of a suspect in an apartment building hallway.
Those areas that are immediately adjacent to a residence, such as a porch or a yard, when the residence is a home, are called “curtilage” and individuals are protected there from warrantless police surveillance and arrest.
But that same perspective of “curtilage” doesn’t apply to apartment dwellers.
It is the Rutherford Institute that confirmed the high court let stand a lower court ruling endorsing the arrest of a man, without a warrant, in a hallway adjacent to his residence.
“As James Otis recognized, ‘A man’s house is his castle.’ Whether that castle takes the form of an apartment, a humble hut, or a mansion is not the issue,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute.
“Privacy should not depend on your home’s square footage. The Fourth Amendment forcefield that protects against warrantless government invasions and surveillance does not discriminate.”
The institute had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the claims from Erich Sorenson.
The case started back in 2012 in Lowell, Massachusetts, while police were investigating a stabbing attack. The victim had been selling drugs.
“The victim could not identify the assailant, but a woman who claimed she was an addict and regularly purchased heroin from the victim told police that she and Erich Sorenson had schemed to rob the victim and that Sorenson had stabbed the man in the course of the robbery,” a report from the Institute explained.
The woman’s testimony was “riddled with inconsistencies,” but officers decided to arrest Sorenson anyway.
Officers knocked on his apartment door and asked him to come into the building hallway, where they arrested him.
During the arrest process he reportedly made a statement, and revealed he had a cut on his hand, both of which were used later at trial.
But he charged that using those details violated the Fourth Amendment protections, insisting that the warrantless arrest was in proximity to his apartment.
That’s important because residents who live in homes are protected in the area directly adjacent to their home, called the “curtilage.”
His defense counsel said an arrest there is unconstitutional.
Lower courts had rejected his claims.
But the Rutherford Institute’s brief notes that the law allows protections for residents of homes.
“Under such reasoning, a person’s dwelling should receive all the protections conferred by the Fourth Amendment whether it be an apartment or a house,” the institute explained.
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