Expectation Of Privacy Is Not Absolute

Although the word “privacy” is not written in the Constitution, we might all agree that each of us has a right to privacy. The exact size and shape of that right is sometimes not well defined. The most obvious place a person can expect to have privacy is inside their home. The further removed from their home and the more available a place is to the public, the less of an expectation of privacy that a person should have.

While you may enjoy an expectation of privacy in your home, you do not have the same right to privacy in someone else’s home. For example, if the police come to your home to knock and talk you have a right to privacy in your home and you can choose to not speak to them and not allow them inside your home (under normal circumstances). However, if you are visiting your neighbor for dinner and the police come to your neighbor’s home while you are there, your neighbor may allow the police to come inside and search the entire house regardless of your wishes. You would not be able to claim that you had an expectation of privacy in your neighbor’s home.

Not only do you not have much of a right to privacy inside a home that you do not normally reside, you also do not have a right to privacy when you are in public. Also, if something can be seen, smelled, or heard by the public; it is not “private”. Police officers pulling up to your front door may be prohibited from just wandering into your house, but anything that can be sensed by a member of the public from just outside your home is fair game.

In a recent case where the police received an anonymous tip, they were able to discover a meth lab because evidence of the lab was out in the open for the whole world to see. Everything the police needed to begin an investigation was in their plain view:

… An anonymous tip had been received about an address on Richmond Road in Berea, Kentucky. He and Detective Parker responded to the tip. When they pulled up to the residence and into the driveway, Detective White detected a strong chemical
Odor to the north side of the garage, which was attached to the house. He saw a
Plastic bottle that appeared to have been used as an HCl generator in the
Manufacture of methamphetamine. The garage had two doors; one door was
Closed and the other one was open. No one was in the garage when they looked

Due to the dangerous situation created by the presence of the chemicals and equipment used to manufacture methamphetamine, the police carried out an extensive search of the premises looking for persons that might be present. During the search, the police discovered a person inside the home who ultimately was arrested and charged with manufacturing methamphetamines. The person did not own or reside in the house, but was merely related to the owner and previous residents.

Because the items and smells the detectives discovered out in the open indicated that illegal activity was afoot and the presence of the chemicals created an emergency situation, they were able to carry out a search. Furthermore, since the person operating the meth lab did not reside in the house, he could not expect to have privacy in the house and did not suffer any violation of his right to privacy. When the drug manufacturer tried to say that he had an expectation of privacy in the home, the court denied his argument because he did not live in the home or own the home. In this case, it is said that the accused did not have “standing” to argue that he had a right to privacy.

The full case is below.