Minnesota v. Carter
Decided on Dec. 1, 1998; 525 US 83


A. Issues Discussed: Criminal justice (drugs), 4th Amendment, search and seizure  

B. Legal Question Presented:

Do visitors in another’s home, who only stay for a short period of time for the purpose of conducting business, have a legitimate expectation of privacy against searches in said home?

A. Background:

A police officer was given a tip from a confidential informant that illegal drug activity was going on inside an apartment, which the informant had witnessed through a gap in the mini-blinds while walking past the apartment. The police officer looked through the gap in the blinds and proceeded to observe the occupants of the apartment bagging cocaine. While waiting for a search warrant to be processed, two of the occupants left the apartment and drove off in a previously identified car. The police stopped the car and identified the occupants as two of the men who were in the apartment. Police later learned that the men, Carter and Johns, had never been to the apartment before that night and were only there for approximately 2.5 hours to process cocaine. During the stop, the officers observed a black, zippered pouch and a handgun in the floorboard of the car. Carter and Johns were then arrested and subsequent searches of the vehicle and Thompson’s apartment, yielded pagers, scales, 47 grams of cocaine in plastic sandwich bags as well as residue on the kitchen table.

Carter and Johns were charged and they moved to suppress the evidence found, arguing that the officer’s initial observation of the activities inside the apartment was an unreasonable search in violation of the 4th amendment. The Minnesota trial court denied the motion, holding that they were not allowed to claim protection of the 4th amendment against government intrusion into the apartment of which they were temporary visitors. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed, stating that since they were not social guests in the apartment, they lacked standing to object to the officer’s actions. The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed, holding that Carter and Johns had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the apartment as invited guests, giving them standing to raise 4th Amendment claims. They further held that the officer’s observation of the activities inside the apartment was an unreasonable search. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari to review the case.
B. Counsel of Record:
Opposing Side
John M. Stuart, MN State Public Defender; Lawrence Hammerling, Deputy State Public Defender James C. Backstrom, Dakota County Attorney
C. The Arguments:

Opposing Side

Respondents have a right to object to the search because, as social guests, they have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the home which was invaded by the officer. The officer’s observation through the blinds amounted to a search because society has determined that the officer’s behavior was unreasonable and invaded the privacy of those present inside the apartment.

Visitors cannot rely upon their host’s privacy interest in a residence to establish a protected privacy interest under the 4th amendment. Each criminal defendant must establish standing to object to a search when the defendant attempts to involve the exclusionary rule. To determine whether a person has a legitimate privacy interest protected by the 4th amendment, a subjective expectation of privacy in the area searched must be established and that expectation must be one that society is prepared to recognize. Society is not prepared to recognize drug dealing as a reasonable activity worthy of protection.

Opposing Side
Steven R. Shapiro filed a brief on behalf of the ACLU, together with the Minnesota Civil Liberties Untion and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, in support of respondents.
Briefs of 26 states as amici curiae were filed in support of petitioner by the attorney generals of MD, ID, AL, AK, AZ, CA, DE, GA, HI, IN, KS, LA, MA, MI, MT, NE, NV, NJ, NY, ND, OK, RI, SC, UT, VT, and VA.

"While an overnight guest may have a legitimate expectation of privacy in someone else’s home, one who is merely present with the consent of the householder may not... The purely commercial nature of the transaction engaged in here, relatively short period of time on the premises, and the lack of any previous connection between respondents and the householder all lead us to conclude that respondent’s situation is closer to that of simply permitted on the premises. Therefore, any search that occurred did not violate their 4th Amendment rights.

Because we conclude that respondents had no legitimate expectation of privacy in the apartment, we need not decide whether the police officer’s observation constituted a ‘search’."

Held: The judgments are reversed. This case was decided with Minnesota v. Johns.
Justice Vote: 3 Pro vs. 6 Con
  • Rehnquist, W. Con (Wrote majority opinion)
  • O’Connor, S. Con (Joined majority opinion)
  • Scalia, A. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Thomas, C. Con (Joined Scalia’s concurring opinion)
  • Kennedy, A. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Breyer, S. Con (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Ginsburg, R. Pro (Wrote dissenting opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined minority opinion, joined Ginsburg’s dissent)
  • Souter, D. Pro (Joined minority opinion, joined Ginsburg’s dissent)

    The ACLU filed as amicus urging affirmance; the Supreme Court reversed the ruling of the Minnesota State Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent loss.