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Media Alerts - United States v. Jackson - Fourth Circuit
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September 28, 2013
  United States v. Jackson - Fourth Circuit
Headline: Warrantless Search of Backyard Trashcan Found Constitutional

Area of Law: Criminal Procedure; Constitutional Law

Issues Presented: Whether the District Court erred in determining Dana Jackson's trashcan was not part of his curtilage; and, in the alternative, whether Jackson's Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures was violated under either a property-based or a reasonable expectation of privacy test.

Brief Summary: Dana Jackson lived in a public housing complex in Richmond, Virginia. His backyard was not surrounded by any fencing enclosure to act as a barrier between his backyard and the complex's common area. Jackson kept his trashcan in his backyard near the edge of his patio, just like the rest of his neighbors. The police suspected Jackson was involved in drug activity and conducted a warrantless search of his trashcan. They found evidence of drug trafficking. Jackson moved to suppress the evidence collected from his trashcan. When suppression was denied, he pled guilty to drug trafficking charges. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed Jackson's conviction stating that his Fourth Amendment rights were not violated under either a trespass-based property test or a reasonable expectation of privacy test.

Extended Summary: Dana Jackson lived with his girlfriend and children at the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority. Virginia police officers received a tip that Jackson was selling drugs from his apartment. This led officers to conduct a "trash pull" of Jackson's trashcan in his backyard. From the bags seized, the police found 32 sandwich bags with cocaine residue. Equipped with that evidence, the police obtained a search warrant for Jackson's apartment where they found additional evidence: firearms, cocaine base, cocaine hydrochloride, a digital scale, several razor blades, and $1,557 in cash. Jackson pled guilty to drug trafficking after his motion to suppress the evidence was denied by the trial court.

The Fourth Circuit first accepted the lower court's factual finding that the trashcan was located approximately 20 feet from Jackson's back door, at the very edge of his patio. The can rested partly on the patio, and partly on a strip of grass that was a part of the public walkway. The Fourth Circuit then considered Jackson's argument that the trash pull was a warrantless physical intrusion onto private property that violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Circuit applied the four-factor analysis, first identified in United States v. Dunn, to determine if Jackson's trashcan was located in the protected "curtilage" of his home or instead was on public property.

The four Dunn factors are: [1] the proximity to the home of the area claimed to be curtilage; [2]whether the area is included in an enclosure surrounding the home; [3] the typical use of the area; and [4] the steps taken to protect the area from observation. With regard to proximity, the Fourth Circuit found that Jackson's trashcan was outside the apartment's curtilage because it was beyond the edge of his patio and because part of the trashcan rested on a strip of grass that was part of the common area. As to the second factor, the court found that the trashcan did not have any form of enclosure such as a fence, nor was there any attempt to exclude the public from the area where the trashcan was located. Examining the third factor, the Fourth Circuit accepted the District Court's determination that the courtyard where a portion of the trashcan was located was used as a common area and was public property. Noting that Jackson had taken no steps to shield the trashcan from view, the Fourth Circuit found that the last factor, too, had not been satisfied.

The court finally rejected Jackson's claim that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his trashcan and the contents therein. Relying upon the Supreme Court's decades-old holding in Greenwood v. California, the Fourth Circuit found that though Jackson's trashcan was not "out for collection," because it was sitting in the common area, it was readily accessible to members of the public. Jackson, therefore, did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the can or its contents. The Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of Jackson's motion to suppress. Judge Thacker dissented.

To read the full opinion, please visit:

Panel: Judges Niemeyer, Agee, and Thacker

Date of Issued Opinion: 08/26/2013

Docket Number: 12-4559

Case Alert Author: Calvin Miner

Counsel: Robert James Wagner, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC
DEFENDER, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellant. Erik Sean Siebert,
Appellee. ON BRIEF: Michael S. Nachmanoff, Federal Public
Defender, Alexandria, Virginia, for Appellant. Neil H.
MacBride, United States Attorney, Alexandria, Virginia, for

Author of Opinion: Niemeyer, J.

Case Alert Supervisor: Professor Renée Hutchins

Edited: 09/28/2013 at 07:39 AM by Renee Hutchins

    Posted By: Renee Hutchins @ 09/28/2013 05:51 AM     4th Circuit  

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