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California v. Ciraolo


The important focus of this case revolved around determining the impact of technological advancement on the ability of law enforcement to conduct search and seizure. The court ultimately decided that open airspace constituted a public place and, therefore, citizens have no Fourth Amendment protection from any overflight made by law enforcement. However, the dissenting opinion nonetheless presented compelling rationale and admonition for the Court to remain mindful that continuing technological advancement requires constant review of how Fourth Amendment jurisprudence is applied.

After receiving an anonymous tip that the respondent was cultivating marijuana in his garden, police rented a small aircraft and conducted an overflight in order to determine if there was sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant to search the property. The two officers that flew over the site were trained in recognition of marijuana crops via aerial reconnaissance. The photographs of the suspect's garden from the air, strongly suggested the presence of a marijuana crop on the property. Based on a sworn affidavit attesting to their expert opinion that there was a presence of marijuana plants, officers obtained a search warrant. The ensuing search of the premises resulted in seizure of 73 marijuana plants.

The local court found the accused guilty of illegal cultivation of marijuana, but the California Court of Appeals reversed that decision. It found the judgment violated the Fourth Amendment because the flight, which ultimately resulted in gaining evidence that convicted the respondent, illegally invaded the respondent's privacy. The state of California appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court which reversed the decision of the lower, appellate court. The Court was split by divided opinions: five justices held the opinion that the respondent's Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and four justices held the dissenting opinions. Neither the majority or dissenting justices questioned whether the respondent illegally cultivated marijuana; rather, at issue was whether the flight over the respondent's house constituted a search and seizure that was prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1981 to 1988California v. Ciraolo - Significance, Unresonable Search And Seizure, The Liability Of Open Airspace, Impact