The Fourth Amendment guarantees citizens the right to be free from unlawful searches. Therefore, an officer cannot enter your home without a warrant unless some exception to the warrant requirement—such as consent—exists.

Court have also recognized that a certain area around your home, known as the curtilage, is protected from police intrusion. Your front porch would be one example but what about the hallway of an unlocked apartment building? An Illinois court says yes.

In People v Bonilla, an officer used a narcotics dog to sniff the hallway outside defendant’s apartment. The court held that the police officer’s actions constituted a search under the fourth amendment even though defendant’s apartment building was unlocked and unsecured. The court reasoned that a person who lived in an unlocked apartment building was not entitled to less protection than a person who lived in a locked apartment building. At the heart of the fourth amendment is a person’s right to retreat into his or her own home and be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion. The fourth amendment does not differentiate as to the type of home involved.

The defendant may have lacked a reasonable expectation of complete privacy in the hallway or an absolute right to exclude all others from it. But this did not mean that police could use sensitive devices or a trained drug-detection dog directly in front of his apartment door.

If you have been charged with a crime, contact an experienced criminal law attorney immediately. An attorney can review your case for its best possible defense. Were police searching somewhere they had no right to be? Even if the police acted legally and the evidence against you is overwhelming, an attorney who is respected in the court house may be able to negotiate a more favorable plea agreement than you could on your own.

If you have questions about this or another related Illinois criminal or traffic matter, please contact Matt Keenan at 847-568-0160 or email

(The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the above decision on appeal in People v. Bonilla).

(Besides Skokie, Matt Keenan also serves the communities of Arlington Heights, Chicago, Deerfield, Des Plaines, Evanston, Glenview, Morton Grove, Mount Prospect, Niles, Northbrook, Park Ridge, Rolling Meadows, Wilmette and Winnetka.)

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