No Trespassing sign won’t keep police off your yard. Will a Moat?

Can police ignore a “No Trespassing” sign planted in your front yard? What about twenty of them? Would ignoring the sign violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against an unreasonable searches and seizure?

The Tenth Circuit was recently called upon to answer this question in United States v. Carloss. In that case, police received a tip that a renter was unlawfully possessing a firearm. The renter lived in a house littered with various sigs warning “NO TRESPASSING,” and that violators “will be prosecuted.” In total, the home had signs in the front yard, side yard, at the driveway, on the path to the home, and on the front door.

Nevertheless, police said they never saw the signs, approached the home and ultimately made contact with the suspect and gathered evidence to arrest him.

In holding that police did not violate the Fourth Amendment by entering the property without a warrant, a divided panel of the Tenth Circuit held that a “No Trespassing” sign (or 20 signs), is insufficient to unquestionably revoke the implied license granted to the general public (and police) to enter upon a property, knock on the front door, and linger briefly waiting to be received.

So what is sufficient? The panel didn’t say specifically, but it suggested that a resident must do more, say, erect some physical barrier, like a fence or yes, a moat, or a “mantrap”; something maybe with a lock or some other indication that the owner has revoked the implied license.

Predictably, imposing this type of burden on the homeowner was ridiculed in a strongly worded dissent.

If you have questions about unlawful entry onto your property, or other violations of the Fourth Amendment, contact the local injury attorneys at Bryan and Terrill Law, 918-935-2777.