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Kyllo v. United States
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Supreme Court of the United States
Argued February 20, 2001
Decided June 11, 2001
Full case name Danny Lee Kyllo v. United States
Citations 533 U.S. 27 (more)
121 S. Ct. 2038; 150 L. Ed. 2d 94; 69 U.S.L.W. 4431; 2001 U.S. LEXIS 4487; 2001 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4749; 2001 Daily Journal DAR 5879; 2001 Colo. J. C.A.R. 2926; 14 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 329
Prior history On writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
Holding
Thermal imaging of a home constitutes a Fourth Amendment "search" and may be done only with a warrant.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Scalia, joined by Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, Breyer
Dissent Stevens, joined by Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), held that the use of a thermal imaging device from a public vantage point to monitor the radiation of heat from a person's home was a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and thus required a warrant. Because the police in this case did not have a warrant, the Court reversed Kyllo's conviction for growing marijuana.

Contents

Facts

A federal agent from the Department of the Interior used a thermal imaging device outside of Danny Lee Kyllo's home. According to the District Court that presided over Kyllo's evidentiary hearing, the device could not “penetrate walls or windows to reveal conversations or human activities. The device recorded only heat being emitted from the home.” The device showed that there was an unusual amount of heat radiating from the roof and side walls of the garage compared with the rest of his house. (The assumption is to grow marijuana indoors, one needs to provide a lot of light so plants can photosynthesize.) This information was subsequently used to obtain a search warrant, where federal agents discovered over 100 marijuana plants growing in Kyllo's home. Kyllo was charged with growing marijuana in his Oregon home. Kyllo first tried to suppress the evidence obtained from the thermal imaging search, but then pled guilty. Kyllo appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court on the grounds that observations with a thermal-imaging device constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment. At the Court of Appeals, the conviction was upheld. Kyllo petitioned a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court.

Opinion of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the thermal imaging of Kyllo's home constituted a search. Since the police did not have a warrant when they used the device, which was not commonly available to the public, the search was presumptively unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional. The majority opinion argued that a person has an expected privacy in his or her home and therefore, the government cannot conduct unreasonable searches, even with technology that does not enter the home. Justice Scalia also discussed how future technology can invade on one's right of privacy and therefore authored the opinion so that it protected against more sophisticated surveillance equipment. As a result, Justice Scalia asserted that the difference between “off the wall” surveillance and “through the wall” surveillance was non-existent because both methods physically intruded upon the privacy of the home. Scalia created a “firm but also bright” line drawn by the Fourth Amendment at the “‘entrance to the house’”[1]. This line is meant to protect the home from all types of warrantless surveillance and is an interpretation of what he called “the long view” of the Fourth Amendment. The dissent thought this line was “unnecessary, unwise, and inconsistent with the Fourth Amendment”[2] because according to Scalia’s previous logic, this firm but bright line would be defunct as soon as the surveillance technology used went into general public use, which was still undefined.

In the dissent Justice John Paul Stevens argued that the use of thermal imaging does not constitute a search, which requires a warrant, because any person could detect the heat emissions. He argued that this could be done by simply feeling that some areas in or around the house are warmer than others or observing that snow was melting more quickly on certain sections of the house. Since the public could gather this information, Stevens argued, there is no need for a warrant and the use of this technique is not unconstitutional. Moreover, Stevens asserted that the use of the thermal imaging device was merely "off the wall" surveillance because it did not detect any "intimate" details of Kyllo's home. Finally, Stevens commented on the absurdity of Kyllo's trying to incorporate something as intangible, fluid and public as heat into the private sphere. He explained, "Heat waves, like aromas that are generated in a kitchen, or in a laboratory or opium den, enter the public domain if and when they leave a building."

The decision did not break along the traditional "conservative" and "liberal" wings of the court: the majority opinion was written by Scalia, joined by Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg and Breyer, while Rehnquist, O'Connor, Kennedy and Stevens dissented.

See also

References

  1. ^ http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=533&page=27 40
  2. ^ http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?navby=CASE&court=US&vol=533&page=27 41

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

Kyllo v. United States
Syllabus
Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), held that the use of a thermal imaging device from a public vantage point to monitor the radiation of heat from a person's apartment was a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and thus required a warrant.Excerpted from Kyllo v. United States on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Court Documents
Opinion of the Court
Dissenting Opinion
Stevens
Wikipedia-logo.png
Wikipedia article
SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
533 U.S. 27
Kyllo v. United States
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT
No. 99—8508. Argued February 20, 2001–Decided June 11, 2001


Suspicious that marijuana was being grown in petitioner Kyllo’s home in a triplex, agents used a thermal imaging device to scan the triplex to determine if the amount of heat emanating from it was consistent with the high-intensity lamps typically used for indoor marijuana growth. The scan showed that Kyllo’s garage roof and a side wall were relatively hot compared to the rest of his home and substantially warmer than the neighboring units. Based in part on the thermal imaging, a Federal Magistrate Judge issued a warrant to search Kyllo’s home, where the agents found marijuana growing. After Kyllo was indicted on a federal drug charge, he unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home and then entered a conditional guilty plea. The Ninth Circuit ultimately affirmed, upholding the thermal imaging on the ground that Kyllo had shown no subjective expectation of privacy because he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home. Even if he had, ruled the court, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the thermal imager did not expose any intimate details of Kyllo’s life, only amorphous hot spots on his home’s exterior.

Held: Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment “search,” and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant. Pp. 3—13.

(a) The question whether a warrantless search of a home is reasonable and hence constitutional must be answered no in most instances, but the antecedent question whether a Fourth Amendment “search” has occurred is not so simple. This Court has approved warrantless visual surveillance of a home, see California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 213, ruling that visual observation is no “search” at all, see Dow Chemical Co. v. United States, 476 U.S. 227, 234—235, 239. In assessing when a search is not a search, the Court has adapted a principle first enunciated in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361: A “search” does not occur–even when its object is a house explicitly protected by the Fourth Amendment–unless the individual manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the searched object, and society is willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable, see, e.g., California v. Ciraolo, supra, at 211. Pp. 3—5.

(b) While it may be difficult to refine the Katz test in some instances, in the case of the search of a home’s interior–the prototypical and hence most commonly litigated area of protected privacy–there is a ready criterion, with roots deep in the common law, of the minimal expectation of privacy that exists, and that is acknowledged to be reasonable. To withdraw protection of this minimum expectation would be to permit police technology to erode the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Thus, obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the home’s interior that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical “intrusion into a constitutionally protected area,” Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 512, constitutes a search–at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use. This assures preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted. Pp. 6—7.

(c) Based on this criterion, the information obtained by the thermal imager in this case was the product of a search. The Court rejects the Government’s argument that the thermal imaging must be upheld because it detected only heat radiating from the home’s external surface. Such a mechanical interpretation of the Fourth Amendment was rejected in Katz, where the eavesdropping device in question picked up only sound waves that reached the exterior of the phone booth to which it was attached. Reversing that approach would leave the homeowner at the mercy of advancing technology–including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home. Also rejected is the Government’s contention that the thermal imaging was constitutional because it did not detect “intimate details.” Such an approach would be wrong in principle because, in the sanctity of the home, all details are intimate details. See e.g., United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705; Dow Chemical, supra, at 238, distinguished. It would also be impractical in application, failing to provide a workable accommodation between law enforcement needs and Fourth Amendment interests. See Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 181. Pp. 7—12.

(d) Since the imaging in this case was an unlawful search, it will remain for the District Court to determine whether, without the evidence it provided, the search warrant was supported by probable cause–and if not, whether there is any other basis for supporting admission of that evidence. Pp. 12—13.

190 F.3d 1041, reversed and remanded.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and O’Connor and Kennedy, JJ., joined.


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