Aerial Surveillance Of Homes Is Legal

1986

Acting on a tip and without a warrant, a police officer flew a plane over the backyard of a suspected marijuana dealer and observed and photographed marijuana plants growing in the yard. Attaching his pictures of the yard as evidence, he obtained a warrant for the search of the home. The homeowner argues that the officer’s aerial surveillance was an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment, but fails to get the evidence excluded and pleads guilty to the charges. The Supreme Court in California v. Ciraolo does not find the flight to be an illegal search. Even though the homeowner had erected a ten foot fence to maintain his privacy, the court concludes that he had no reasonable expectation of privacy when the yard remained “knowingly exposed” to observation by the naked eye from an aerial view.