Minnesota v. Carter

525 U.S. 83, 119 S. Ct. 469 (1998)



In order to claim the protection of the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must demonstrate that he personally has an expectation of privacy in the place searched, and that his expectation is reasonable; i.e., one that has a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society. 


A police officer looked through a window blind in a lessee's apartment based on an informant's tip. The officer observed respondents bagging cocaine in the apartment. Based on that observation, a warrant was issued, and respondents were arrested and charged with conspiracy to commit a controlled substance crime. Respondents made a motion to suppress the evidence, contending that the officer's observation was an unreasonable search. Ultimately, the state supreme court determined that respondents had standing to assert a U.S. Const. amend. IV legitimate expectation of privacy claim. The court reversed and remanded, holding that an overnight guest in a home could claim the protection of U.S. Const. amend. IV, but one who was merely present with the consent of the householder could not. 


Was the officer's initial observation considered an unreasonable search in violation of the Fourth Amendment?




Any search that may have occurred did not violate respondents' Fourth Amendment rights. The state courts' analysis of respondents' expectation of privacy under the rubric of "standing" doctrine was expressly rejected in Rakas v. Illinois, 439 U.S. 128, 140, 58 L. Ed. 2d 387, 99 S. Ct. 421. Rather, to claim Fourth Amendment protection, a defendant must demonstrate that he personally has an expectation of privacy in the place searched, and that his expectation is reasonable. The Fourth Amendment protects persons against unreasonable searches of "their persons [and] houses," and thus indicates that it is a personal right that must be invoked by an individual. But the extent to which the Amendment protects people may depend upon where those people are. While an overnight guest may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in someone else's home, see Minnesota v. Olson, 495 U.S. 91, 98-99, 109 L. Ed. 2d 85, 110 S. Ct. 1684, one who is merely present with the consent of the householder may not, see Jones v. United States, 362 U.S. 257, 259, 4 L. Ed. 2d 697, 80 S. Ct. 725. And an expectation of privacy in commercial property is different from, and less than, a similar expectation in a home. New York v. Burger, 482 U.S. 691, 700, 96 L. Ed. 2d 601, 107 S. Ct. 2636. Here, the purely commercial nature of the transaction, the relatively short period of time that respondents were on the premises, and the lack of any previous connection between them and the householder all lead to the conclusion that their situation is closer to that of one simply permitted on the premises. Any search which may have occurred did not violate their Fourth Amendment rights. Because respondents had no legitimate expectation of privacy, the Court need not decide whether the officer's observation constituted a "search." 

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