As Americans are staying at home during the 2020 quarantine, many are taking on gardening as a new hobby. Here is something to consider when growing your marijuana plant in your backyard or bedroom open window. The case of California v. Ciraolo introduces us to the plain view doctrine, which allows police to peek into your private life without a warrant.
The Santa Clara Police received an anonymous tip that Ciraolo was growing marijuana in his back yard. Unable to observe the yard from the ground due to a high fence which encircled it, the police secured a private plane and flew over Ciraolo’s house at an altitude of 1,000 feet. The fly-over confirmed the presence of marijuana. The police then obtained a search warrant, seized 73 plants on the next day, and arrested Ciraolo who then pleaded guilty to the cultivation of marijuana. The California Court of Appeals, however, found that the aerial observation was illegal and reversed Ciraolo’s conviction.
The divided Court found that the observation did not violate the Constitution. Chief Justice Burger reasoned that the Fourth Amendment protections regarding the home had never been absolute: for example, police officers are not obligated to shield their eyes when passing homes on public streets or sidewalks. Since the observations of the Santa Clara officers was “nonintrusive” and “took place within public navigable airspace,” their actions were consistent with the Fourth Amendment. “Any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed,” concluded Burger. The dissenters, led by Justice Powell, argued that this decision was a significant departure from the Court’s holding in Katz v. United States (1967) which established a two-part test to evaluate privacy claims.
Full Opinion here: https://www.oyez.org/cases/1985/84-1513
Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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