A federal judge has ruled that police officers in Wisconsin did not violate the Fourth Amendment when they secretly installed cameras on private property without judicial approval.
The officers installed the cameras in an open field where they suspected the defendants, Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana, were growing marijuana. The police eventually obtained a search warrant, but not until after some potentially incriminating images were captured by the cameras. The defendants have asked the judge to suppress all images collected prior to the issuance of the search warrant.
But in a Monday decision first reported by CNET, Judge William Griesbach rejected the request. Instead, he approved the ruling of a magistrate judge that the Fourth Amendment only protected the home and land directly outside of it (known as “curtilage”), not open fields far from any residence.
The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The court ruled that under applicable Supreme Court precedents, “open fields, as distinguished from curtilage, are not ‘effects’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.”
The property in question was heavily wooded, with a locked gate and “no trespassing” signs to notify strangers that they were unwelcome. But the judges found that this did not establish the “reasonable expectation of privacy” required for Fourth Amendment protection. In their view, such a rule would mean that (in the words of a key 1984 Supreme Court precedent) “police officers would have to guess before every search whether landowners had erected fences sufficiently high, posted a sufficient number of warning signs, or located contraband in an area sufficiently secluded to establish a right of privacy.”
I’m beginning to wonder if the Feds keep pot illegal simply because it’s so common and frequent busts provide regular opportunities to chip away at our rights. Read the rest of the story here.