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Civil Rights – Unlawful searches

U.S. Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit


Civil Rights – Unlawful searches

Where plaintiffs alleged that officers entered the curtilage of their home without a warrant, the district court erred in dismissing their civil rights suit.

“On multiple occasions, the defendants protest that the officers were looking for large items, and that there was no need to disturb small personal items in order to search for these large items. The size of the items is entirely irrelevant, though, if the officers were in areas where they were not authorized to be when they conducted their search. Certainly, if the officers were standing on the public way or at the front door and the objects sought were in plain sight, there would be no unlawful search. But that is not what the plaintiffs alleged; they asserted that the officers entered areas of the home that they were not authorized to enter, including the curtilage and the inside of an attached garage. Both of these areas, as we noted earlier, are well within the protections of the Fourth Amendment. The defendants also fault the plaintiffs for not describing the window through which the officer peered when he told C.A.V. that he “had to” conduct a search. Neither Rule 8 nor Iqbal require that level of detail in a complaint. A fair reading of the complaint is that the officers approached the house not through the usual path of a visitor, e.g. by approaching the front door and knocking, but by driving up to the attached garage on the private driveway and walking through the curtilage before peering through a window. This is the kind of behavior for which the average citizen might call the police, not the kind of behavior one would expect from the police. See Jardines, 133 S. Ct. at 1416 (noting that to find a visitor knocking on the door is routine but to spot that same visitor exploring the front path with a metal detector before asking permission would inspire many people to call the police, because ‘the background social norms that invite a visitor to the front door do not invite him there to conduct a search.’). Most parents would want their fourteen-year-old daughters to call the police if an unknown man approached the house and stared at the teen through a window. No one needs a description of that window to know that something is terribly amiss in that behavior. The defendants also complain that there was no forced entry and nothing was seized. But of course neither of these factors are necessary to sustain a Fourth Amendment claim for an improper search.”

Reversed and Remanded.

12-3790 Vinson v. Vermilion County

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois, Rovner, J.

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