The open fields doctrine was first articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hester v. United States, which stated that “the special protection accorded by the Fourth Amendment to the people in their ‘persons, houses, papers, and effects,’ is not extended to the open fields." This opinion appears to be decided on the basis that "open fields are not a "constitutionally protected area" because they cannot be construed as "persons, houses, papers, effects."
This method of reasoning gave way with the arrival of the landmark case Katz v. U.S., which established a two-part test for what constitutes a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The relevant criteria are "first that a person have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy and, second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as reasonable'." Under this new analysis of the Fourth Amendment, a search of an object or area where a person has no reasonable expectation of privacy is, in a legal sense, not a search at all. That search, therefore, does not trigger the protections of the Fourth Amendment.
In Oliver v. United States, the Supreme Court held that a privacy expectation regarding an open field is unreasonable:
…open fields do not provide the setting for those intimate activities that the Amendment is intended to shelter from government interference or surveillance. There is no societal interest in protecting the privacy of those activities, such as the cultivation of crops, that occur in open fields.
Courts have continuously held that entry into an open field—whether trespass or not—is not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. No matter what steps a person takes, he or she cannot create a reasonable privacy expectation in an open field, because it is an area incapable of supporting an expectation of privacy as a matter of constitutional law. In situations where the police allege that what was searched was an open field, this has the practical effect of shifting the argument from whether any given expectation of privacy is reasonable, to whether the given place is actually an open field or some other type of area like curtilage. This is because a person can have a reasonable expectation of privacy in areas classed as such.
Read more about this topic: Open Fields Doctrine
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