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Law School Case Brief

United States v. Ruckman - 806 F.2d 1471 (10th Cir. 1986)


Legitimacy of a privacy claim is determined by the totality of the circumstances. The test of legitimacy is not whether the individual chooses to conceal assertedly private activity but whether the government's intrusion infringes upon the personal and societal values protected by the Fourth Amendment.


Defendant Frank William Ruckman was wanted pursuant to a warrant for failure to appear on a misdemeanor charge. It was known that he lived on government property in a cave. When serving the warrant, officers discovered a shot gun, which was seized when Defendant was taken to jail. Eight days later, the officers went back to clear the contents of the cave and found and seized anti-personnel booby traps. These devices were not registered in the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record as required by 26 U.S.C.S. § 5841. Defendant was consequently charged with violation of the aforementioned statute. Prior to trial, Defendant moved to suppress the use at trial of any and all physical evidence seized in a warrantless search of his “home.” The trial court convicted Defendant. Defendant appealed.


Did Defendant had a right under the Fourth Amendment to be free from search, without a warrant, of his “home,” in this case, a natural cave?




The Court held that the record contained no statement by Defendant that he had any subjective expectation of privacy in the cave. According to the Court, Defendant was merely a trespasser on federal lands and subject to immediate ejectment; and while he had been living off the land for several months, the cave could hardly be considered a permanent residence. Thus, Defendant's cave was not subject to the protection of the Fourth Amendment.

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