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Sometimes the black letter law passed by the legislature is unclear. The legislature can’t anticipate every possible fact scenario when they pass a law, so it lay to the courts to interpret the law and give guidance to what it means. This interpretation is called case law. When the court decides a certain meeting to the law it essentially answers a legal question. Lawyers and other courts then can rely on that ruling when they have a similar issue in their case. The following case answers the question above.

U.S. v. Cannon, 264 F.3d 875 ( 9th Cir. 2001).

This case answers the question: 

When executing a search warrant of a premises, can officers search a separate residential unit that is not listed on the warrant, but within the curtilage of the premises?

The issue in this case is whether the storage areas located in a second structure on a property were within the scope of the search warrant. Id. Curtilage is simply the area immediately surrounding the home or where one conducts “activity associated with the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” Id. at 880. Areas of curtilage are determined by: “(1) the area’s proximity to the home, (2) whether the area is included in an enclosure surrounding the home, (3) whether the area is used for intimate activities of the home, and (4) the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation.” Id.

In this case, the defendant was arrested by a valid warrant and DEA agents executed a search of his property. Id. at 878. The warrant described his physical address, house, and “articles of personal property… such as vehicles, structures, storage areas, residences or containers where marijuana or evidence may be found.” Id. at 877. A second structure on the property was converted from a garage to a self-contained residential unit sometime earlier. Id. at 878. This residential unit building had two storage rooms which could be accessed only be exterior doors. Id. Officers then searched the house and the residential unit, finding no incriminating evidence. Id. Then officers asked the defendant for keys to the storage rooms, where they found “approximately four hundred marijuana plants.” Id. The Court noted that the “failure of the warrant to specifically list he storage rooms as a place to be search does not, by itself, exclude the storage rooms from the warrant’s scope.” Id. at 880. The Court concluded that the search of rear residential unit was not within the scope of the warrant, but the two storage rooms were not an extension of that unit and “were within curtilage of the main house for which officers had a valid warrant.” Id. at 879. Therefore, officers had the right to search the storage rooms.

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