Guests’ Expectation of Privacy in Garages and Outbuildings

I’ve had a couple of questions recently about something that I’d never considered before: whether a guest has “standing” to contest a search of the outbuildings associated with a host’s home.

Most readers will know the legal backdrop. In order to argue that the results of an allegedly illegal police search should be suppressed, a defendant must establish that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the location that was searched. Otherwise, he lacks standing to contest the search. An overnight guest generally has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the host’s home. See Robert L. Farb, Arrest, Search, and Investigation in North Carolina 80 (3rd ed. 2003). A non-overnight guest, such as a dinner guest, may also have such an expectation, depending on the specific facts and circumstances of the case.

Assuming that a guest has a reasonable expectation of privacy in a host’s home, does that expectation extends to outbuildings such as storage sheds and garages? I couldn’t find a North Carolina appellate case on point, and the leading treatise doesn’t directly address the issue. See generally Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 11.3(b)-(c) (4th ed. 2004). I was able find a number of out-of-state cases, which suggest that the answer is often no:

  • United States v Mendoza, 438 F.3d 792 (7th Cir. 2006) (apparent overnight guest at a residence had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the detached garage where his vehicle was parked)
  • United States v. Phillips, 382 F.3d 489 (5th Cir. 2004) (guest had no expectation of privacy in shed where host “alone had exclusive control of the shed, kept the shed locked and had the only key, and had never given [the guest] or anyone else permission to use, enter, or store anything in the shed for any purpose”)
  • United States v. Rackley, 724 F.2d 1463 (11th Cir. 1984) (occasional overnight guest lacked standing to contest search of garage)
  • United States v. Jenkins, 426 F.Supp.2d 336 (E.D.N.C. 2006) (“Society would not find reasonable either a guest’s expectation of privacy in a bedroom he was not invited to use . . . or a host’s shed in the backyard.”)
  • Meridyth v. State, 163 S.W.3d 305 (Tex. Ct. App. – El Paso 2005 (“We know of no authority, however, that would extend the guest or employee’s expectation of privacy in the home to the outbuildings or curtilage of the premises, as opposed to the home itself.”)
  • State v. Evans, 1995 WL 640603 (Wis. Ct. App. Nov. 2, 1995) (unpublished) (“Evans argues that his status as an overnight guest at McIntyre’s residence is sufficient to establish a legitimate expectation of privacy in her garage. We disagree.”)

A few courts have found an expectation of privacy in garages and outbuildings, particularly where the guest has been invited into, or has been invited to store items in, the garage or outbuilding:

  • United States v. Fultz, 146 F.3d 1102 (9th Cir. 1998) (guest whose personal belongings were in boxes in segregated area of host’s garage had a reasonable expectation of privacy therein)
  • State v. Cuntapay, 85 P.3d 634 (Hawai’i 2004) (guest who was regularly invited into host’s garage for social purposes had a reasonable expectation of privacy therein)

One way to characterize the majority rule is that garages and outbuildings normally aren’t “part of the house” for purposes of guests’ privacy expectations. Put in those terms, the majority rule makes an interesting contrast to the rule that garages and outbuildings normally are part of the house for purposes of determining the scope of a search authorized by a search warrant, or the scope of a search authorized by the property owner’s consent. A recent post on those issues is here.

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