Police Looking in Windows May Count as Unreasonable Searches in Utah

Utah residents who keep their blinds drawn for personal or legal reasons may be surprised to know that some bare windows are protected from unreasonable searches by police under the Fourth Amendment.

Privacy from neighbors

Photo by: Bandita

Windows are a way for homeowners to let in natural light while giving them a view to the outside world. In this regard however, it can also allow those outside to see what is happening indoors. The majority of Utah residents know they should give their neighbors a certain degree a privacy by not approaching another’s home to peek in the windows. This common courtesy is afforded by most even if the windows are unobstructed by curtains or drapes. Likewise, most understand that windows seen from the street or those visible when knocking on the front door should either be covered for privacy or expected to be seen by anyone within eyesight.

Privacy from law enforcement

While respectful neighbors use the unspoken code of neighbor conduct to refrain from peeping in windows, police officers are likewise limited but through legal barriers set in place by the Constitution of the United States of America . The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”People have the right to have privacy in their homes and should not have to worry about their home being visually searched from an open window.

Plain View doctrine

Photo by: Alexander Baxevanis

Homeowners should expect the interior of their residence to be protected from prying officers, regardless of whether or not the blinds are drawn. This does not mean they have full privacy from law enforcement looking in from outside however. If a police officer can see into a window from the street, it is fair game. If there is a 5 foot tall marijuana plant basking in the afternoon sunlight through a person’s living room window, officers can see that plainly from the public street and then have probable cause to enter the home and confiscate the plant and accessories without a warrant. Additionally, just as a neighbor is allowed to enter another person’s property to knock on the door, officers are permitted to do the same. Often law enforcement will knock on the door as a friendly “hello” while using the opportunity to look through the door and nearby windows for illegal contraband in Plain View.

Police and unreasonable searches

Creeping around a home while peering in windows is rude and unacceptable behavior for police and residents alike. Glancing in a window directly near the front door while waiting for the resident to answer is something that everyone does (whether or not they will admit it). Since the curious glance in a nearby window is tolerated from regular citizens, officers are permitted to do so as well. If they can see the contents of a room through an exposed window while standing at the front step, it is acceptable. If they take a few steps away from the front door to get a better look into another window, that would not be justifiable behavior for a respectful neighbor and it shouldn’t be for police either. In fact, when police leave the step to unlawfully search from the home’s curtilage is where it becomes a violation of a person’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Legal counsel for questionable search and seizure

Whenever a physical or visual search of someone’s home or other property is done without a warrant, it can raise a lot a questions regarding validity of the reasoning behind such a search. Instead of assuming no one with a badge ever makes a mistake, anyone facing criminal charges where a questionable search is key evidence should obtain legal counsel who will review the case carefully. A reputable attorney can help a defendant ensure that their rights were in no way violated by unreasonable searches and seizures.