Court Rules on Heat-Sensor Searches

Court Rules on Heat-Sensor Searches
Posted by FoM on June 11, 2001 at 09:05:30 PT
By Anne Gearan, Associated Press Writer 
Source: Associated Press
Police violate the Constitution if they use a heat-sensing device to peer inside a home without a search warrant, the Supreme Court ruled Monday. An unusual lineup of five justices voted to bolster the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and threw out an Oregon man's conviction for growing marijuana.Monday's ruling reversed a lower court decision that said officers' use of a heat-sensing device was not a search of Danny Lee Kyllo's home and therefore they did not need a search warrant.
In an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia, by many measures the most conservative member of the court, the majority found that the heat detector allowed police to see things they otherwise could not.``Where, as here, the government uses a device that is not in general public use to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a 'search' and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant,'' Scalia wrote.While the court has previously approved some warrantless searches, this one did not meet tests the court has previously set, Scalia wrote.The decision means the information police gathered with the thermal device - namely a suspicious pattern of hot spots on the home's exterior walls - cannot be used against Kyllo.The court sent the case back to lower courts to determine whether police have enough other basis to support the search warrant that was eventually served on Kyllo, and thus whether any of the evidence inside his home can be used against him.Justices Clarence Thomas, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer joined the majority.Justice John Paul Stevens wrote a dissenting opinion joined by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and Justices Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony M. Kennedy.At issue was how modern police technology fits into the court's long line of decisions on what should be considered a search requiring a court warrant.Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that police must get bus passengers' consent or a search warrant before squeezing their luggage to see if drugs might be inside. The court also requires a warrant to put a ``bug'' in someone's home or in a telephone booth.But the justices have said police do not need a warrant to go through someone's garbage left on the curb, fly over a backyard to see what is on the ground, or put a beeper on a car to make it easier to follow.Kyllo was arrested in January 1992 and charged with growing marijuana at his home in Florence, Ore.Police had been investigating his neighbor, but they focused on him after they trained a thermal imaging device on his home and saw signs of high-intensity lights. Using those images, electricity records and an informant's tip, police got a warrant and searched Kyllo's home, finding more than 100 marijuana plants.Kyllo contended the marijuana plants could not be used as evidence against him because the police did not have a search warrant when they used the heat-sensing device. A judge ruled against him, and Kyllo pleaded guilty on condition he could appeal the search issue.The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the use of the device, saying it should not be considered a search.During arguments at the Supreme Court in February, Kyllo's lawyer told the justices that people should feel free to let down their guard at home without fear of the government unreasonably looking over their shoulder.The Justice Department contended the heat-sensing device did not intrude on Kyllo's home but instead passively detected the heat that escaped from it, and the court's dissenters apparently agreed.Police gathered only information available on the outside walls, and used ``a fairly primitive'' device to do so, Stevens wrote.Using the Thermovision device ``did not invade any constitutionally protected interest in privacy,'' Stevens wrote.The case is Kyllo v. U.S., 99-8508.On the Net:Supreme Court: Source: Associated PressAuthor: Anne Gearan, Associated Press WriterPublished: June 11, 2001Copyright: 2001 Associated PressRelated Articles:Supreme Court Rules Thermal Imaging Is a Search Flyover Sufficient for Search Warrant Police: Big Brother with a Badge?
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Comment #7 posted by mikegetshighhotmail on June 12, 2001 at 10:18:04 PT:
kyllos vs. us
  i think that the u.s. supreme court made the right judgement. i think that what a person dose inside their own home is their own biusiness, regardless if it is against the u.s.'s "laws" unless it has some negitive effect on other people.
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Comment #6 posted by Challas on June 12, 2001 at 05:25:01 PT:
where's our freedom of choise
regarding "America...Land of the free"iI live in South Africa and as u know we have some of the best resorces but because of some people can't be used!My country is suppose to be the most democratic off all yett we ,the people cant even get the freedom to vote if we would like to legalize or even decriminelize or not .Now i ask u if that is democresey????????sorry 4 any spellingmistakes
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Comment #5 posted by TroutMask on June 11, 2001 at 13:57:02 PT
I think this is very important
It is my understanding that the majority of arrests/prosecutions for production go like this:1. A tip from an informant or suspicious neighbor2. Investigation of electric records3. Thermal imaging4. Search warrant5. Arrest/prosecutionThree things:1. Now a warrant is required for thermal imaging when before thermal imaging was used to secure a warrant. Therefore the government must rely on 1 and 2 above, which in most cases should be insufficient for a warrant.2. Now that a warrant is required for thermal imaging, thermal imaging devices are effectively useless. If your warrant allows you into the property and you have to get a warrant for thermal imaging, why in the heck would you use thermal imaging when you can simply enter the premises? If you're in the market for used thermal imaging devices, call your local police as they should have plenty to spare after today.3. Before today, any cop could just drive around checking out any building/residence for "unusual heat sources" and then secure a warrant based upon that. In addition, some people have actually been busted when cops using thermal imaging to find suspects accidentally found a grow house instead. Now this evidence should be inadmissable without a warrant.Anyone grower can now breathe a huge sigh of relief and the police will have a much harder time persecuting growers. This is not decrim/legalized MJ, but it sure as heck removes a very simple and unconstitutional way for the police to bust growers.
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Comment #4 posted by E. Johnson on June 11, 2001 at 13:06:36 PT
Creative bipartisanship
I love the split in this decision: the arch conservatives and arch liberals against the so-called moderates.This is a sign of hope. Maybe conservatives are finally waking up to the creeping Sovietization of America that is being stimulated by the Drug War.There needs to be some more of this creative bipartisanship enacted in Congress over the medical marijuana issue.Like the creative bipartisanship that put Bob Barr and Tammy Baldwin in charge of a move to save the First Amendment from Dianne Feinstein and Orrin Hatch last year.Creative bipartisanship - that should be the battle cry of the marijuana movement.
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Comment #3 posted by Pontifex on June 11, 2001 at 12:33:52 PT:
An insignificant victory
OK, so police can't use super high-tech gadgetry to justify a search warrant. How is this supposed to help our cause?At best, a few indicted growers will have their cases tossed out of court. But this just means law enforcement will have to tweak their tactics slightly.Instead of thermal imagers, police will rely more on informants and power bills. They'll rely more on garbage searches and copter fly-bys. Maybe they'll do spectranalysis on light seeping through curtains to determine if it's from incandescents or an incriminating MH/HPS lamp. Maybe they'll just tape a thermometer to the building exterior next time -- that wouldn't meet Scalia's definition of a search.Cops still have plenty of ways to spy on Rastas. This ruling is virtually meaningless, IMHO. It's just a consequence-free way for Scalia and Thomas to pay lip service to their notions of constitutional conservatism, even as they eviscerate the 4th with rulings like the arrest-seatbelt-violators case.A real case would be a challenge to the Controlled Substances Act on 10th Amendment grounds brought by the attorneys general of California, Nevada and Hawaii. Now that would be a case with a meaningful outcome.
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Comment #2 posted by Doug on June 11, 2001 at 12:16:01 PT
Will Wonders Never Cease
This is quite a suprise, considering how often the Supreme Court has voted against the Fourth Amendment, and even more surprising is that Scalia and Thomas voted in the majority.Granted, the Fourth Amendment, as Robbie says, is pretty much in tatters, but at this point anything positive is cheerful, and the SC has made a few other rulings recently that were also in this vein. I'm wondering how much publicity this decision will get.
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Comment #1 posted by Robbie on June 11, 2001 at 09:24:31 PT
America, Land of the Free?
But the justices have said police do not need a warrant to go through someone's garbage left on the curb, fly over a backyard to see what is on the ground, or put a beeper on a car to make it easier to follow.I guess I'm happy about this particular decision, but given the above, it seems as if the Fourth is already gone.
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