The recent Idaho Supreme Court decision in State v. Skurlock answers the question of when daytime ends – at least when it comes to conducting a search pursuant to a "daytime" search warrant. Skurlock was residing in a motel in Sandpoint, and the police executed their "daytime" warrant about a half hour after sunset. They found drugs and Skurlock was charged with possession with the intent to deliver. 

The question on appeal (as preserved by Skurlock’s conditional guilty plea) was whether or not to follow an earlier decision (from State v. Burnside, 113 Idaho 65(1987)), that daytime ends at the point at which there is insufficient natural light to clearly identify individuals without the aid of artificial light. The State presented evidence that when the search began, there was sufficient light to identify individuals – so the search was within the law as understood by the officers and previously announced by the court of appeals. 

You might wonder why this matters. Night time searches place everyone at a greater risk of harm, as anyone who has been startled from sleep by a knock on the door can attest. So searching during the day has the advantage of officer safety and it is arguably less an invasion of privacy. Idaho law, however, does not specifically define "daytime." Skurlock argued that the Court should adopt the same rule as Utah, that daytime warrants may not be served one-half hour after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise. The concurring opinion suggested a third alternative used by the federal government – relying on a particular time. 

The Supreme Court affirmed Skurlock’s conviction, noting that he had not contested the facts of the case nor presented an argument that the application of Burnside violated his constitutional rights, or amounted to misapplication of Idaho law. Sorry Skurlock, but that search was not unreasonable.

So now the question is this: Should there be a criminal rule that defines "daytime?"

As a member of the Idaho Criminal Rules committee I would love to hear your opinion. Personally, I don’t think any change is necessary. The Court in Skurlock leaves open the possibility that we might adopt a "bright line" rule, but is any such rule going to be better than the current precedent? Skurlock might have put on evidence that the officers needed a flashlight to identify persons at the scene. He did not do so. He might have argued some set of facts to establish a reasonable basis for overruling Burnside. He did not. And is a rule that says daytime ends at a certain time likely to lead to a more "reasonable" search? I doubt it.

I would leave the law as it is – even though neither the legislature nor any rules committee has defined "daytime." The courts are certainly capable of giving us a rule that seems to work, and that is what we have in Burnside.

Have a different opinion? Let’s hear it.