Aerial Surveillance For Drugs Ruled Constitutional

1986

A police officer, acting on a tip but without a warrant, flies a plane over the backyard of a suspected marijuana dealer. He observes marijuana plants in the yard and obtains a search warrant for the property (attaching his pictures of the yard as evidence). After the homeowner fails to get the evidence excluded, claiming that the aerial surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment, he pleads guilty. The U.S. Supreme Court in California v. Ciraolo refuses to find the aerial surveillance to be an illegal search, even though the homeowner had built a 10-foot fence to maintain his privacy. The court finds that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy when the yard remained “knowingly exposed” to observation by the naked eye from the air.