On January 15, 2016 our Wisconsin Supreme Court decided that police do not need to obtain a warrant when dealing with a person who is in the shared underground garage of their apartment building.
The court case dealt with a man who was driving home from a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game. An off-duty police officer, who was driving his own private vehicle and was not in a police uniform, noticed a driver in front of him who was driving erratically. The officer called police and then continued to follow the erratic driver to an apartment building. The driver drove down into his underground garage and the garage door began to close behind him. The officer then pulled his vehicle into the garage and stopped under the garage door, preventing the door from closing. An on-duty officer then arrived and approached the driver in his garage. After making contact with the driver, and after the driver refused to participate in field sobriety tests, he was then arrested for Operating While Intoxicated (OWI).
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees all of us the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant prior to any searches and seizures. There are several exceptions to this warrant requirement. However, in the past most courts have been steadfast in their determination that when dealing with someone who is in their home, police must get a warrant before they can take certain actions against that person. In addition, court have defined a person’s home to include certain places outside of their home that they call “curtilage”, like yards, front porches, and garages.
On January 15, 2016 the Wisconsin Supreme Court took away the privacy interests of apartment dwellers by determining that there is no expectation of privacy in these shared underground garages and therefore police do not need a warrant under these types of circumstances.