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Media Alerts - United States v. Burston - Eighth Circuit
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December 11, 2015
  United States v. Burston - Eighth Circuit
Headline Eighth Circuit panel reverses denial of motion to suppress evidence gathered by police in connection with unconstitutional dog sniff

Area of Law Fourth Amendment

Issue(s) Presented Whether the district court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress evidence gathered in connection with drug-detection dog sniff performed on the curtilage of his home.

Brief Summary Defendant was convicted of violating 18 U.S.C. ยง 922(g)(1) for being a felon in possession of a firearm. The conviction relied on evidence gathered by police in connection with a drug-detection dog sniff of an area immediately outside of Defendant's home. The district court denied Defendant's motion to suppress this evidence as a violation of this Fourth Amendment rights, finding that the exclusionary rule did not apply because the police officers acted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding Eighth Circuit precedent at the time of the dog sniff.

Defendant lived in an eight unit apartment building. Defendant's unit was on street level, and had a private entrance and a window. To access the unit, Defendant had his own walkway leading from the public sidewalk to his door, which was about six feet from his window. A bush covered Defendant's window, and he had a grill in the space between the walkway and his window. Based on information about potential drug use in the apartment building, officers let a drug-detection dog off-leash to sniff the air alongside the exterior wall of the apartment building. The dog left the sidewalk and walkway leading to Defendant's apartment, and sniffed the area around Defendant's window. The dog alerted to the presence of drugs six to ten inches from Defendant's window. Based on the dog's alert, the officers obtained a warrant to search Defendant's home and found the rifles and ammunition which led to his conviction. In his motion to suppress, Defendant argued that the dog sniffing near his window constituted an illegal warrantless search on the curtilage of his home.

On appeal of the denial of the motion to suppress, a panel of the Eighth Circuit agreed with Defendant, and reversed the District Court's ruling. The Court relied on a prior US Supreme Court ruling holding that an officer's use of a drug sniffing dog to investigate a home and its immediate surroundings, also called "curtilage," constitutes a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment. To determine whether an area is considered "curtilage" the proximity to the home, whether the area is in an enclosure, the use put to the area, and the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by are all considered. The Eighth Circuit held that, based on these factors, the area near Defendant's window constituted curtilage, and as such, the warrantless drug dog sniff was an illegal search which violated Defendant's Fourth Amendment rights. The Court further held that the officers did not reasonably rely on binding Eighth Circuit precedent in conducting the search because the area sniffed was not a common area, so good faith exceptions to the general rule did not apply.

The full text of the opinion may be found at

Panel Circuit Judges Melloy, Murphy, and Smith

Date of Issued Opinion November 23, 2015

Decided Reversed and remanded

Docket Number 14-3213

Counsel Mark Tremmel for the United States and Raphael Scheetz for Defendant

Author Circuit Judge Melloy

Case Alert Circuit Supervisor Joelle Larson, University of Minnesota Law School

    Posted By: Joelle Larson @ 12/11/2015 01:49 PM     8th Circuit  

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