GA: Police approaching back door of apartment violated curtilage

Officers investigating stolen property found the thieves who said they traded the property to defendant for drugs. They went to his apartment in a quadplex to talk to him. Getting no answer at the front door, they walked on the grass to the back to try there, and saw what was likely the property. The trial court suppressed for a violation of the curtilage, and the court of appeals affirms. It is well developed in Georgia that even apartment holders can have a protected curtilage. State v. Newsome, 2019 Ga. App. LEXIS 595 (Oct. 25, 2019):

In its ruling below, the trial court focused its analysis on whether the back door was a public entrance for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. “[A]partment residents have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the curtilage surrounding their apartment.” Espinoza v. State, 265 Ga. 171, 173 (2) (454 SE2d 765) (1995). The record in this case supports the trial court’s conclusion that Mathews did not have an implied license to enter the back deck area. There is no evidence that the front door was inaccessible, or that Newsome treated the back door as a public entryway. Nor is there evidence that the back door and deck area “were visible or in plain view from the street or from anywhere the officers were authorized to be upon arriving at the home.” Arp, 327 Ga. App. at 343 (1). “The absence of a fence enclosing [Newsome’s] yard is not conclusive, particularly since he rented the property[, and] his lack of exclusive control over the land [does not] eliminate his expectation of privacy.” Espinoza, 265 Ga. at 173-174 (2). The back door and deck area are surrounded by railing, and a wooden privacy partition separates Newsome’s deck from the adjacent property. The back deck and door are not visible from the street in front of the house, and there is no sidewalk or driveway connecting the front and back of the apartment. The only means of access to and egress from the second-story rear door is via a staircase leading only to Newsome’s apartment. Under these circumstances, the trial court did not err in concluding that Newsome had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the back door of his residence. See id. at 173-174 (2) (affirming trial court’s grant of motion to suppress because defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the yard outside the driveway leading to his apartment and contraband was discovered in an area where visitors to the duplex would not be expected to go).

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