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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > July 2013 > State v. Howard, Second District Court of Appeals

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State v. Howard, Second District Court of Appeals

Question: Can officers search a car inside a detached garage if their search warrant allows them to search the “surrounding curtilage” of a house?
Quick answer: Yes.

Facts: Officers from the Greene County Agencies for Combined Enforcement Task Force got a warrant to search the house of Christopher Howard’s mother based on suspected drug activity. The warrant mentioned a detached garage and the surrounding curtilage. When the officers executed the warrant, they discovered a quarter kilo of cocaine in the trunk of a Chrysler Sebring parked in the garage. Howards moved to suppress the cocaine evidence on the grounds that the warrant did not authorize the search of the garage or the Sebring.
Why this case is important: “Curtilage” is an obscure term that no one but lawyers and cops uses anymore, and this case is a good reminder that “curtilage” covers any outbuildings (including garages, sheds, and barns) connected with and in close vicinity of the residence to be searched. In other words, even if the detached garaged hadn’t been specifically mentioned in the warrant, it would have been covered as part of the curtilage of the residence. “Curtilage” also includes any vehicles parked in the immediate proximity of the house, and so the Sebring also was covered.
Keep in mind: While outbuildings and vehicles are part of the curtilage of the house, they also have to be close and related to the property searched. So, for example, a barn on the back 40 may not be “in surrounding curtilage” of a farmhouse a quarter mile away. Similarly, when two houses share a driveway, it would be improper to search a car that you know belongs to a neighbor or that you cannot otherwise connect to the residence on your search warrant.
Visit the Ohio Second District Court of Appeals website to view the entire opinion.