FL2: Crawl space below house screened off only by lattice work is a constitutionally protected area

One has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the crawl space below a Florida residence protected only by a lattice. A pill bottle seen there was argued by the state to be abandoned, but it was in a constitutionally protected area. Davis v. State, 2017 Fla. App. LEXIS 9355 (Fla. 2d DCA June 28, 2017):

Further, any argument that the pill bottle was not in a constitutionally protected area because it was outside the house is not supported by the facts here. While there is some dispute as to whether the curtilage of a rooming house is afforded the same Fourth Amendment protection as a single-family dwelling, see Titus, 707 So. 2d at 707 n.1 (stating that the opinion is limited to the interior areas of rooming house and does not address the exterior areas or curtilage), here the pill bottle was not found in the curtilage. Instead, the record shows that Davis placed the pill bottle in concrete latticework that was attached to the foundation of the house and protected the crawlspace from intruders. This latticework and the crawlspace behind it were part of the structure. See Tindall v. State, 997 So. 2d 1260, 1261 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009) (holding that entry into the crawlspace constituted entry into a structure because the defendant “penetrated the invisible, vertical plane into the airspace of the house by crawling under the house to gain access”); see also Dicks v. State, 75 So. 3d 857, 860 (Fla. 1st DCA 2011) (holding that defendant’s entry into the crawlspace under a mobile home was sufficient to constitute his “entering” the dwelling for purposes of a burglary charge); cf. Peterson v. Jones, No. 3:14CV104/RV/CJK, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 28833, 2016 WL 873235 at *8 (N.D. Fla. 2016) (holding that burglary conviction of defendant who crawled onto the roof of a building and stole air conditioning coils from units on the roof was supported by the evidence because entry onto the roof penetrated the vertical plane of the structure). Hence, Acri did more than enter the curtilage of the rooming house; he entered the house itself by penetrating the “invisible vertical plane into the airspace of the house.” This intrusion into a constitutionally protected space removes this case from the “non-intrusion” line of cases relied upon by the trial court and renders the trial court’s ruling that the area was not constitutionally protected incorrect.

Having determined that the latticework and the crawl space behind it are part of the constitutionally protected space of the rooming house, we conclude that the only way Acri could validly seize the pill bottle was if it could somehow be considered to have been in “open view.” As discussed above, HN7Go to the description of this Headnote.the “open view” doctrine applies when an officer is located outside of a constitutionally protected area looking in. If the officer sees contraband in that situation, it furnishes him probable cause to seize the item, but he must either obtain a warrant or have some exception to the warrant requirement before he may enter the protected area and seize the contraband. Rickard, 420 So. 2d at 305. The problem here is that Acri did not see “contraband” in the latticework; he saw only an opaque pill bottle. His hunch that it might contain contraband was just that—a hunch.

But more importantly, Acri had neither a warrant nor facts to support an exception to the warrant requirement when he entered the property. …

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