Yesterday, the North Carolina Court of Appeals published an opinion finding in favor of Patterson Harkavy attorney Paul Smith’s client.
In North Carolina v. Stanley, a unanimous panel of the court held that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they knocked on a home’s back door without a warrant. Police officers who do not have a warrant are generally permitted to approach a home to the same extent other members of the general public are allowed to approach a stranger’s home. In Stanley, the Court addressed the constitutionality of officers who lacked a warrant, but who approached a home’s back door instead of its unobstructed front door.
The State argued that the officers were permitted to knock on the home’s back door because they had observed another individual approach that door on other occasions. In today’s opinion, the Court of Appeals rejected that reasoning. It held that “the fact that the resident of a home may choose to allow certain individuals to use a back or side door does not mean that similar permission is deemed to have been given generally to members of the public.” The Court held that absent “unusual circumstances,” the Fourth Amendment requires that officers proceeding without a warrant approach a home’s front door because that is the door occupants would expect members of the general public to approach.