U.S. District Judge William Griesbach has approved the warrantless placing of surveillance cameras on people’s private property. In a recent case, the judge ruled that it was permissible for the Drug Enforcement Agency to enter the defendants’ rural property without permission or warrant and install several “covert digital surveillance cameras” to determine whether or not the owners had 30 to 40 marijuana plants. CNet News reports:
“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 [Magistrate Judge] 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.”
But both Judges Callahan and Griesbach stated that police placing surveillance cameras outside the curtilage does not violate the Fourth Amendment. The “curtilage” refers to the area immediately surrounding a person’s house. Callahan had based his decision on a 1984 case where the majority of Justices decided that law enforcement could search someone’s “open fields” without a warrant because it was outside the suspect’s curtilage.