Supreme Court: Even a non-intrusive search needs a warrant

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 17, 2001.

  1. 06/14/2001

    There is no difference between a team of law enforcement officers going room to room in the house of a drug suspect or the same officers pointing a thermal device at the outside of the building.

    Both are searches. Both require a warrant.

    With that pronouncement, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision upheld the notion that innovative technology doesn't invalidate fundamental constitutional protections. Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said that requiring a warrant "assures preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted."

    The case arose in 1992 when a federal Bureau of Land Management officer suspected an Oregon man of growing marijuana in his house. The officer discovered that the home consumed an unusual amount of electricity, a possible indication that sun lamps were being used to cultivate the crop indoors.

    The officer then used a thermal detection device to pinpoint the garage as the source of the heat. The officer obtained a search warrant, and agents discovered a marijuana crop in the garage.

    Give the officer an "A" for smart sleuthing, but fail him for his understanding of the Constitution. And especially chide the Justice Department for a dangerous, disingenuous argument that the device tracked the outside of the house and did not detect "intimate details" of activity inside.

    In a technological age, scanning a garage with a thermal device is every bit as intrusive as wiretapping – and wiretapping requires a warrant. To have ruled otherwise, the high court would have created an untenable situation for law enforcement officers and authored a dangerous, circuitous path around Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

    The Founding Fathers could not have foreseen such space-age technology or imagined the possible abuses, but they did understand the delicate balance between legitimate government authority and abuse.

    Law enforcement officers have a responsibility to look to the Constitution, not the limits of science and technology, for guidance. The high court couldn't have sent a clearer or more important message. Just because government can do it doesn't mean government should do it.

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