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Curtilage includes the area immediately surrounding a dwelling, and it counts as part of the home for many legal purposes, including searches and many self-defense laws. When considering whether something is in a dwelling's curtilage, courts consider four factors:

  1. The proximity of the thing to the dwelling.
  2. Whether the thing is within an enclosure surrounding the home.
  3. What the thing is used for.
  4. What steps, if any, the resident took to protect the thing from observation/access by people passing by.

These factors were determined by the Supreme Court in United States v. Dunn.

In the context of criminal procedure, courts generally call any part of the property surrounding a dwelling that is not part of the curtilage an “open field.” The open field/curtilage differentiation is important because, while a warrant is required to search the curtilage, officers are allowed to make a warrantless search of an open field. 

[Last updated in July of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]