In 2017, Officers Tyler Robinson and Tyler Norman of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife were out on opening day of dove hunting. They heard shooting from a distance and pulled over to listen. When they stopped, they heard voices across the highway in a field near the south side of Highway 489.
After entering the land, the officers encountered Chris Tullos and Jackie Allen. The officers asked them to come towards them and as they did, Tullos threw a black bag behind a utility pole. When asked what was in the bag, Tullos said methamphetamine. The bag was thrown out in open fields owned by his grandmother.
Tullos lived with his grandmother across the street from where the bag was discarded (he owned the house as it was deeded to him by his grandmother). Tullos was convicted of possession of methamphetamine and sentenced to three years. On appeal, Tullos argued police improperly entered private property without probable cause. MCOA affirmed.
In Jordan, MSC outlined four factors to consider when determining whether the area surrounding the structure is considered within the curtilage: (1) proximity of the area claimed to be curtilaged to the home; (2) whether the area is included within an enclosure surrounding the home; (3) the nature of the uses to which the area is put; and (4) the steps taken by the resident to protect the area from observation by people passing by.
In Whitehead, we said that if a person denies ownership or possession of property, he later has no standing to complain that the search of it was unlawful. During the suppression hearing, Tullos did just that. Tullos testified that he owned the home across the street and that his grandmother owned the land where the evidence was seized.
Notwithstanding Tullos’s admission that he did not own the land where the evidence was seized, we said in Brown that when one does not possess a property right, he or she may still claim protections of the Fourth Amendment if he or she has a legitimate expectation of privacy in the invaded place. Tullos argues that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in his grandmother’s private property across the road from where he lived.
We find that the area where the evidence was seized was not only an open field, but it was also outside the curtilage of his home. The record provides that the evidence was seized on 90 acres of land not owned by him but rather by his grandmother. Tullos testified that his grandmother’s land was across the road from his home. There was no evidence that the area was within an enclosure, such as a fence surrounding the home. Tullos testified that the area was used for the purposes of hunting.
Additionally, there was no testimony at the suppression hearing concerning any steps made to protect the subject area from observation by people passing by. In light of the testimony at the suppression hearing, we conclude that Tullos did not meet his burden of proof because the area where the evidence was seized was on an open field outside the curtilage of his home. Therefore, we find that Tullos lacks standing to contest the search.
- If Tullos owned the open fields, there would be a completely different analysis. See Okhuysen.
- If Tullos had thrown the methamphetamine inside the curtilage of his home, he would have had a better argument that he still had an expectation of privacy and that the officers lacked probable cause to enter the private property. Remember, they entered the private property before they saw Tullos drop the bag.