Oliver v. United States

RESPONDENT: United States
LOCATION: Sugar Camp Road

DOCKET NO.: 82-15
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 466 US 170 (1984)
ARGUED: Nov 09, 1983
DECIDED: Apr 17, 1984

Alan I. Horowitz - on behalf of the Respondent United States
Donna L. Zeegers - on behalf of the Respondent Thornton
Frank E. Haddad, Jr. - on behalf of the Petitioner Oliver
Wayne S. Moss - on behalf of the Petitioner Maine

Facts of the case

These are two consolidated cases involving the discovery of open marijuana fields as the result of unwarranted searches of privately owned land.

In the first case, Kentucky State police searched Ray E. Oliver's farm, acting on reports that marijuana was grown there. A gate marked with a "No Trespassing" sign surrounded the field. Police found marijuana in the field about a mile from Oliver's home. Before trial, the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky suppressed evidence found in the search on the ground that Oliver had a reasonable expectation that his field would remain private. This expectation triggered the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed under the open field doctrine. The open field doctrine states that a citizen's protection from unwarranted search does not extend to open fields.

In the second case, police searched the woods behind Richard Thornton's property after an anonymous tip. Police found two marijuana patches on Thornton's land. The Main Superior Court granted Thornton's motion to suppress evidence found in the search for the same reasons as the Oliver case. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court of Main affirmed.


Does the open field doctrine apply when police officers knowingly enter privately owned fields without a warrant?

Media for Oliver v. United States

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 09, 1983 in Oliver v. United States

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in Oliver against United States and the consolidated case.

Mr. Haddad, I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Frank E. Haddad, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The state police without a warrant, probable cause or exigent circumstances searched the Petitioner Oliver's farm and found marijuana growing in a corn field.

Oliver moved to suppress the evidence in the District Court.

That motion was sustained.

A panel of the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

On petition for rehearing en band the Sixth Circuit held that the per se open fields doctrine permitted the state police to conduct the open field search, and that holding by the Sixth Circuit was contrary to the position of seven other circuits who have rejected the per se open fields doctrine as well as most of other state courts--

The issue presented in this case is whether the Court's decision in Katz decided in 1967 holding that the Fourth Amendment protects an individual if he has an actual and a reasonable expectation of privacy modified the per se open fields doctrine to the extent of regarding a search warrant or requiring a search warrant for the search of a highly secluded field from whence the public is excluded and where a reasonable expectation of privacy is shown to exist on behalf of the Petitioner.

The facts in this case are that a police officer, a Kentucky State Police officer, received an anonymous tip and based on that anonymous tip, the anonymous tip being that these was marijuana being grown on the Oliver farm.

Based on that tip he and another police officer without a search warrant and without probable cause and without having any exigent circumstances proceeded to Mr. Oliver's farm.

Mr. Oliver's farm has proved to have been 22 miles from the nearest town in a very, very remote area of Kentucky.

To get to the field that they ultimately found the marijuana growing in it was necessary for the police officers to enter Mr. Oliver's property, drive several hundred yards to his house and then continue driving nearly another mile into the property.

During this travel according to Mr. Oliver and there is some dispute about the number, but there were a number of posted No Trespassing signs.

They traveled on beyond the house as I say for another mile when they came upon a locked gate blocking the roadway.

This locked gate also had on it a No Trespassing sign.

The officers parked their car not being able to go beyond that gate in the car and walked around the gate.

This area was fenced within the farm and the proof is that the farm had boundary fences around it as well.

After going past this gate or walking around this gate they proceeded about a quarter of a mile on when someone yelled to them,

"Come back. "

"There is no hunting allowed in this property. "

The officers walked back to the barn on the camp or where this person was standing and they could not find the person that they had seen who yelled at them.

So they proceeded on for another approximate quarter of a mile until they get into the property to the field approximately a mile and a half.

They traveled on that last journey, that last quarter mile journey, they travelled apart of that way through very dense underbrush and very dense wooded area.

They finally came upon the corn field and they could only when they got to that corn field observe that marijuana was growing in the corn field.

They could not see that marijuana from any other position until they had driven back approximately a mile and a half and stood actually on the field or in the field.

Harry A. Blackmun:

That is they could not see.

I suppose somebody in a helicopter could.

Frank E. Haddad, Jr.:

Yes, they could.

The situation that we have here is that the officers after finding this marijuana they came back out and while traveling on the road they saw Mr. Oliver and ultimately arrested him and charged him with manufacturing and growing marijuana in violation of the federal statute that was involved.