SW Legal Educational Publishing

Aerial Search of Property Not a Violation of Right to Privacy
Description Appeals court upheld the use of evidence seized upon search of a property with a warrant obtained after police flew over defendant's property in an airplane at a legal altitude. The aerial search was made based on a tip that there was marijuana growing on the property, which was the case. So long as the airplane was at a legal altitude, the search was legal.
Topic Criminal Law
Key Words Search and Seizure; Privacy; Aerial Observation
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts An informant told police that Wilson was growing marijuana in a roofless shed at his residence. The police flew over the shed in an airplane at an altitude of 500 feet to look inside the shed with binoculars. They observed what they believed to be 15-20 marijuana plants growing inside the shed. The police then obtained a warrant to search both the shed and Wilson's house where they seized marijuana plants. Wilson moved to suppress the evidence, claiming that it was obtained by an illegal search and seizure. The trial court denied the motion and convicted Wilson. He appealed.
Decision Affirmed. Flying over the property at a legal altitude did not constitute an illegal search in violation of state constitutional rights to privacy. The police have the right to make aerial observations, just as they make observations when seated in automobiles. The judge then issued a warrant on probable cause, so the evidence was legally obtained.
Citation State v. Wilson, 988 P.2d 463 (Ct. App., Wash., 1999)

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