Legal Citation: 488 U. S. 445, 109 S. Ct. 693, 102 L. Ed. 2d. 835 (1989) Procedural History: The respondent, Michael A. Riley, was charged with possession of marijuana under Florida law. The trail court granted his motion to suppress; the Court of Appeals reversed but certified the case to the Florida Supreme Court, which rejected the decision of the Court of Appeals and reinstated the trail court’s suppression order.
The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari for Florida to review the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida. Question: Is surveillance of the interior of the partially covered greenhouse in a residential backyard from a vantage point of a helicopter located 400 feet above the greenhouse constitutes as a ‘search,’ for which a warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 12 of Florida Constitution?
Facts: In this case, the Pasco County Sheriff’s office received an anonymous tip that marijuana was being grown on the respondent’s property. When the investigating officer discovered that he was not able to see the contents of the green house by the road. All he was able to see was a wire fence surrounding the mobile home and the greenhouse with a “DO NOT ENTER” sign posted on the property. He then circled twice over the respondent’s property in a helicopter at the height of 400 feet.
With his naked eye, he was able to see through the openings in the roof, since there had been two missing panels, and identify what he thought was marijuana growing in the structure. A warrant was later obtained based on these observations, continuing the search revealed marijuana growing in the greenhouse. Which lead, the respondent, Michael A. Riley, to be charged with possession of marijuana under the Florida law. Decision: No.
The surveillance of the interior of the partially covered greenhouse in a residential backyard from a vantage point of a helicopter located 400 feet above the greenhouse does not constitutes as a ‘search’ for which a warrant is required under the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 12 of Florida Constitution because helicopters are not bound by the lower limits of navigable airspace allowed to other aircrafts. Any member of the public could have legally have been flying over Riley’s property in a helicopter at the altitude of 400 feet and could have observed Riley’s greenhouse.
Nothing implied that the helicopter interfered with respondent’s normal use of the greenhouse or the other parts of the curtilage. Therefore, the police did not violate his Fourth Amendment, right to privacy. Judgment: Reversed Principle of Law: The reason the court reserved the decision of the Supreme Court of Florida is because there is nothing in the records that suggest the helicopters flying at 400 feet are sufficiently rare in this country to lead substance to respondents claim that he reasonably anticipated that his greenhouse would not be subject to observation from that altitude.