In the latest court case pertaining to the use of surveillance cameras by police on private property without a warrant, a federal court has ruled that police can indeed, in some instances, install cameras on a persons’ property without a warrant, and without the consent or knowledge of the property owner. Doesn’t that make you feel secure in your persons, houses, papers, and effects?
Two defendants in the case, Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana of Green Bay, Wis., have been charged with federal drug crimes after DEA agent Steven Curran claimed to have discovered more than 1,000 marijuana plants grown on the property, and face possible life imprisonment and fines of up to $10 million. Mendoza and Magana asked Callahan to throw out the video evidence on Fourth Amendment grounds, noting that “No Trespassing” signs were posted throughout the heavily wooded, 22-acre property owned by Magana and that it also had a locked gate. (Original Article here).
The court has said that the surveillance cameras installed on the private property of the defendants constitutes a substitute for normal police work, and therefore does not require a warrant, but this was not public surveillance. The last time I checked the police needed a warrant to enter my property, so why is a court saying it is legal for police officers to trespass on private property, install surveillance cameras, and then monitor the activity of the property owners, all without a warrant?
Yesterday Griesbach adopted a recommendation by U.S. Magistrate Judge William Callahan dated October 9. That recommendation said that the DEA’s warrantless surveillance did not violate the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and requires that warrants describe the place that’s being searched.
Four days after the cameras were placed on the private property, police did get a warrant for the use of the surveillance, but the defendants claim the video evidence should be thrown out because it was gathered before a warrant was issued. Of course information collected without a warrant on private property should not be admissible in court. The Fourth Amendment clearly states:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Now, I’m no lawyer, but if a cop searches around private property until he finds evidence of something, and THEN goes to get a warrant, would he not be acquiring a warrant which particularly describes the place, ALREADY searched? This defeats the entire point of a warrant, which is that law enforcement already has probable cause to believe that a particular law has been violated. Police justifying an unreasonable search with evidence of a crime is exactly what was trying to be prevented by the fourth amendment. The cameras were recording activities on private property, and therefore were performing an unreasonable, warrentless, seizure of data.
Because the surveillance was not directly of the dwelling on the property, nor was the “curtilage” (land immediately surrounding a house) surveilled, the court somehow thinks this is not an unreasonable search, and that it did not violate the right of the property owner to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects. Somehow the court believes if private property includes fields and wooded areas, this is somehow equal to performing surveillance in public. It is not.
Obviously property comes under the protection of the fourth amendment. The police officers in this case had no right to enter the property of this homeowner because they did not have a warrant. That they got a warrant after the fact shows that they knew they had originally performed illegal surveillance. Had that warrant been issued before they entered the property to install cameras, this would not be an issue of constitutionality.
This type of illegal behavior by law enforcement is unacceptable, and needs to be stopped now. This time it was for marijuana, but what will it be next time? Raw milk? Raising chickens without a license? Hunting on your own property? People need to be left alone and allowed to pursue happiness.