D.Minn.: Ion scan of apartment doorknob and lock did not violate curtilage

State officers conducted an ion scan of defendant’s apartment doorknob and lock which was legal under state law. This violated no reasonable expectation of privacy because the doorknob in an apartment hallway is not part of the curtilage. United States v. Jones, 2024 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75284 (D. Minn. Apr. 25, 2024):

Weighing these factors, the Court finds that Jones’s apartment’s exterior doorknob and lock are not part of his home’s curtilage. The Eighth Circuit instructs that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in the common areas of an apartment building. United States v. McCaster, 193 F.3d 930, 933 (8th Cir. 1999); United States v. Brooks, 645 F.3d 971, 975-76 (8th Cir. 2011). Jones’s apartment door is in a common space and accessible to the public. Nobody would claim that Girl Scouts or trick-or-treaters knocking on his door would violate the federal Constitution. Florida v. Jardines, 569 U.S. 1, 8 (2013). The Court finds conducting an ion swab scan constitutes similar contact with the exterior door. Further, Jones, as a renter, lacks the right to exclude individuals from interfering with the exterior of his door. For example, Jones does not have the right to forbid the owner of the apartment building from replacing or repainting the doorknob or lock. Cf. United States v. Martinez, No. 22-86, 2022 WL 18011789, at *2 (D. Minn. Dec. 30, 2022). Thus, the doorknob and lock are not within the apartment’s curtilage. A critical factor is the fact that the apartment building is unlocked and thus accessible to the public. In such instances, the doorknob and lock do not carry with them a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Jones claims that the officers unconstitutionally trespassed his home when they physically touched his apartment doorknob and lock, United States v. Jones, 565 U.S. 400, 407 n.3 (2012), using sense-enhancing technology to gather “any information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical ‘intrusion into a constitutionally protected area,'” Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 34 (2001) (quoting Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 512 (1961)). However, the ion swabbing at issue in this case is distinguishable from installing a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle to monitor the vehicle’s movements and using thermal imaging technology to detect infrared radiation within constitutionally protected spaces. See Jones, 565 U.S. at 404; see also Kyllo, 533 U.S. at 40. While ion swab scans detect unseen traces of controlled substances on a front door, they do not affirmatively reveal anything beyond the door, unlike the thermal imaging technology at issue in Kyllo. And while the officers did physically touch the doorknob and lock of Jones’ apartment door to collect the sample for the ion swab scan, the Court finds there is no reasonable expectation of privacy of an apartment doorknob and lock that warrants constitutional protection.

Analogous caselaw involving the use of drug detection dogs supports this conclusion by distinguishing the door of an apartment in a common hallway to the door of a single-family home. Using a drug detection dog to sniff the door frame of an apartment located in a common hallway does not constitute a search. United States v. Scott, 610 F.3d 1009, 1016 (8th Cir. 2010). In contrast, using a drug detection dog to sniff a door on the porch of a single-family home does. Jardines, 569 U.S. at 11-12. Nevertheless, the Eighth Circuit has “neither expressly overruled Scott nor explained how Jardines applies to apartment doors in a common hallway.” United States v. Perez, 46 F.4th 691, 697-98 (8th Cir. 2022); see also United States v. Hopkins, 824 F.3d 726, 732 n.3 (8th Cir. 2016); United States v. Hines, 62 F.4th 1087, 1092-93 (8th Cir. 2023). Though Judge Kelly in her concurring opinion in Perez indicated that the area around an apartment door that opens into a common hallway may be curtilage, without explicit guidance from the Eighth Circuit that an apartment door in a common hallway is curtilage, the Court will follow precedent. 46 F.4th at 705-07 (Kelly, J., concurring). In the Court’s view, there are different expectations of privacy for these spaces. The front door of an apartment in a common hallway is physically located within a common space, whereas the front porch is a part of the home itself “to which the activity of home life extends.” Jardines, 569 U.S. at 7.

In sum, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in generally accessible spaces like the shared hallway outside Jones’s apartment door, which includes the apartment doorknob and locking mechanism. The doorknob and lock are not part of the home’s curtilage. As a result, the ion swab scan of Jones’s apartment doorknob and locking mechanism was not a search.

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