The Fourth Amendment protects your right to privacy in your home, vehicle and other property. It may also apply to your self-storage unit under certain circumstances.
The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable search and seizure and your privacy rights governing your rental self-storage unit can play a role in your criminal defense. A search is reasonable if police possess a warrant signed by a judge that is based upon reasonable information and states that a suspect committed a crime.
Individuals have rights against unlawful search and seizure of their rental unit’s interior. Police must possess and show a warrant to the facility’s owner. After producing this warrant, they may enter that unit without the owner’s consent.
A police search is restricted to the specific areas listed in the warrant. Police may not access and search adjacent units or a unit that is incorrectly identified in the warrant.
Tenants have a reasonable expectation of privacy in the interior of their rental units. But this does not extend to the air and space outside the unit. Tenants have no authority to prevent police from entering a storage facility.
Police do not need a warrant, for example, to have access to a storage facility and observe the area outside a storage unit if they have the facility owner’s consent. Police may usually view vacant units, unpaid rented units or common areas inside the facility.
The Fourth Amendment allows observation of items if police are legally in an area where that item may be seen. A police officer with a warrant or an invited officer without a warrant is permitted to view the interior of a self-storage unit through a crack or other opening. If they see a suspected illegal item, they can use that observation to obtain a search warrant to search that unit and seize that item.
Police can rely on odors that they or a drug canine smell to identify the presence of an illegal item. For example, a ruling by a federal appeals court in New York allowed the warrantless use of a drug sniffing dog.
In that case, police obtained the facility owner’s permission for the dog to sniff around the unit of a suspected drug dealer. The facility owner agreed to a police interview and allowed access to their surveillance footage and rental records. Police then seized approximately 100 pounds of marijuana from that unit.
The court ruled that use of a drug sniffing canine was not a search under the Fourth Amendment. It found that the police and drug dogs were in the storage facility’s common areas that were accessible to other tenants and employees. A search, on the other hand, requires entry into a tenant’s rental unit.
A search’s legality and its use in a criminal prosecution depend on many circumstances. Attorneys can help protect your rights and seek the exclusion of illegally seized evidence.