Federal Judge Rules Cops Can Set Up Cameras On Private Property Without Warrants

Ars Technica’s Timothy B. Lee reports on a case that will have wide-ranging implications in today’s omnipresent surveillance state:

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.


21 Comments on "Federal Judge Rules Cops Can Set Up Cameras On Private Property Without Warrants"

  1. bobbiethejean | Oct 31, 2012 at 7:00 pm |

    This is complete and utter bullshit. They violated the fourth amendment by the very definition of the fourth amendment. Maybe my understanding of the constitution is incomplete. Maybe I should go back and reread the fourth amendment. However, I could have sworn that this is EXACTLY and PRECISELY the kind of crap the fourth amendment was supposed to protect us from.

  2. Cynthia mckguilicuty | Oct 31, 2012 at 7:57 pm |

    Yay America! When do we start to push back? I am not saying we need violence, but something has got to give. Perhaps a nationwide strike. Meaning no voting, not buying useless shit, no working, no school, etc. Maybe then we can restore freedom and rationality to government. These corrupt cunts are out of control.

  3. 1984 is a fitting year for an Orwellian Court to Rule in favor of a complete bastardization of the 4th Amendment. The Loophole they’re using here is meant to designate land usage and ownership and thereby protect the public from being harmed or arrested should they be found trespassing.

  4. BuzzCoastin | Oct 31, 2012 at 9:23 pm |

    > police officers in Wisconsin… suspected the defendants,
    Manuel Mendoza and Marco Magana, were growing marijuana

    can’t help but notice that the names of the suspects
    and the location of the incident
    once again gives evidence that the selective enforcement of laws
    is directed at people of color and other minorities
    even worse
    the crime was growing a plant

  5. Big brother always wins.

  6. Looks like W got precisely what he wanted when he appointed that Federal judge. Another example of civil liberties losing to government convenience.

  7. Mozambique Drill | Oct 31, 2012 at 11:01 pm |

    The Supreme Court has established that there is “no expectation of privacy” in an open field. So the cops were definitely trespassing, but may not have been violating the defendants’ constitutional rights.

    • Matt Staggs | Nov 1, 2012 at 8:38 am |

      The “open field” was behind a locked wooden gate with a “no trespassing” sign clearly affixed.

      • Calypso_1 | Nov 1, 2012 at 10:42 am |

        But the courts have ruled that the onus should not be on LE to determine if the fence was high enough of a barrier or if there were enough signs posted to clearly establish the extent of privacy.
        …of course local codes often prevent a fence from being high enough to establish privacy or from posting signage in anything but a fairly inconspicuous manner.

    • Guess the defendant should have just shot the cops for trespassing and hoped the jury would let them off.

      Better to go to prison as a hero than another dope grower.

  8. Hadrian999 | Nov 1, 2012 at 12:17 am |

    considering the courts say cops can bug your car without a warrent as long as it isn’t in your garage this comes as no surprise

  9. DeepCough | Nov 1, 2012 at 1:55 am |

    C’mon, guys: I mean, how do you expect these guys to enforce the law AND protect your civil liberties at the same point.

  10. Anyone can set these critters up anywhere they want, it just depends on what you USE them for.

  11. Simiantongue | Nov 1, 2012 at 8:43 am |

    Strange eh?


    To record police even in public can potentially cost someone 16 years in jail. But in this article it’s perfectly legal for police to record someone, even on private property. That goes far beyond a double standard.

    I realize that police, as such, are not one large collective group of the same mind. Isn’t it convenient that laws can be interpreted and selectively enforced in so many different ways?

  12. slavesRus | Nov 1, 2012 at 10:18 am |


  13. Liquidnight | Nov 1, 2012 at 12:02 pm |

    this ruling seems to indicate it is legal to videotape anyone anywhere but in thier home. This has grave repercussions for the military and private sectors.

  14. It seems that they lacked the probable cause to get a search warrant until after they had started secretly recording the property. Really they should be trowing out the all the evidence collected from the camera and warrants the camera added in getting.


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