An important concept in American Common Law, curtilage is the area surrounding a house or dwelling that the resident looks upon as an extension of his private space. The U.S. Supreme Court noted in United States v. Dunn, 480 U.S. 294 (1987), that curtilage is the area immediately surrounding a residence that “harbors the intimate activity associated with the sanctity of a man’s home and the privacies of life.” Curtilage, like a house, is protected under the fourth amendment from unreasonable searches and seizures. In effect, law enforcement acting without a legal warrant may be turned away from the areas defined as curtilage rather than the person’s actual house or home, thus making detached garages and shops protected areas. In some states, the “castle laws” apply to curtilage rather than the interior of a person’s home, thereby legalizing the defense of one’s family outside the actual house.
Determining the boundaries of curtilage is imprecise and subject to judicial determination. There are generally four factors taken into account to classify an area as curtilage:
1. The distance from the home to the boundary of curtilage – the closer to the home, the more definite the curtilage.
2. Whether or not the home is surrounded by an enclosure – if so, the enclosure will often define the curtilage.
3. The nature of use for the curtilage area. In a rural setting, the outbuildings often determine the curtilage, including such things as wood piles, shops, storage sheds and the area between them (sometimes called a “compound.”) The more an area is used for daily or domestic activities, the more likely it will be within the curtilage.
4. The steps taken by the resident to protect the area from public view. Hedges, trees, board fences, and warning signs will help define an area as curtilage. If a swimming pool is located in the front yard with a fence of shrubs shielding it from the public, a strong case can be made that the pool and its surrounding area is curtilage.
The sign offered by SurviveUSA establishes a clear indication of the area a resident believes is his curtilage, and if supported by domestic activities as a reasonable boundary, the resident is acting to strengthening his case for the area being curtilage.