United States v. Dunn

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Ronald Dale Dunn
LOCATION:Ronald Dunn’s Ranch

DOCKET NO.: 85-998
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 480 US 294 (1987)
ARGUED: Jan 20, 1987
DECIDED: Mar 03, 1987
GRANTED: Jun 23, 1986

Louis Dugas, Jr. – on behalf of the Respondent
Roy T. Englert, Jr. – on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Using electronic beepers and aerial photography, police tracked certain drug making supplies to Ronald Dale Dunn’s ranch. The ranch had a fence surrounding the perimeter as well as several interior fences. Law enforcement officers entered the property without a warrant and crossed several fences to get near Dunn’s barn. The barn was about 60 yards away from Dunn’s house and a fence separated the two buildings. Police smelled phenylacetic acid and heard a motor running in the barn. Police approached the barn but did not enter. The officers did shine a flashlight through netting above the door and observed what looked like a drug laboratory. The officers made several similar visits, not entering, but looking into the barn, before obtaining a warrant to search the barn and Dunn’s house. During this search, police seized chemicals and equipment use for making drugs.

At trial, Dunn unsuccessfully moved to suppress evidence obtained during the search. A jury convicted him on federal drug charges. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the barn was “within the curtilage” of Dunn’s house, so the police officers’ warrantless visits to the barn violated the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court vacated the court of appeals judgment and remanded in light ofOliver v. United States. This time, the court of appeals found that the warrantless searches of the barn violated Dunn’s reasonable expectation of privacy.


Is a search warrant needed to peer into the open side of a barn that is located in a field on private property?

Media for United States v. Dunn

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – January 20, 1987 in United States v. Dunn

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 03, 1987 in United States v. Dunn

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 85-998, United States against Dunn will be announced by Justice White.

Byron R. White:

As the opinion on file with the Clerk indicates the Court reverses the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in this case.

Justice Scalia has filed a concurring statement disassociating himself from a portion of the opinion; Justice Brennan has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall has joined.