Question: Are members of the media permitted to enter a home, curtilage, or place where private owners have a reasonable expectation of privacy while officers are executing a search warrant?
Quick Answer: Yes, as long as media presence doesn’t expand the scope of the search. Here, the search was carried out by the officers themselves, and the reporters didn’t aid the search by touching, moving, or handling anything in the residence.
Facts: Local and federal officers executed a search warrant on Raymond and Lourdes Duenas’ property for evidence of narcotics trafficking. Although up to 40 officers were present, no single officer was clearly in charge of managing the scene. Members of the media and other civilians were allowed on the property during the search to film and photograph the scene. The media members were instructed to remain in the front yard and were not permitted past a certain area. However, some journalists were escorted beyond the front yard to photograph a marijuana patch in the backyard. The presence of the general public contributed to the chaos at the search scene.
Why this case is important: The court held that the Duenas’ front yard was not part of the curtilage; therefore, the presence of the media didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. It wasn’t classified as curtilage because the front yard was not enclosed; there was no evidence as to how the yard was used; nor was there evidence that the Duenases tried to protect the yard from observation. The court held that as long as the media did not discover or develop any of the evidence later used at trial, the evidence didn’t have to be suppressed. In this case, the media did not expand the scope of the search warrant and did not assist officers or touch, handle, or taint the admitted evidence in any way.
Keep in mind: Properly managing a crime or search warrant scene to avoid media or public interference is important. Officers should only allow authorized personnel to touch, move, or handle evidence.