Public Service

Warrantless Helo Surveillance Ruled Unconstitutional

By Staff Writer | October 22, 2015

The New Mexico State Police violated the U.S. Constitution when it overflew a suspected marijuana plantation, according to an Oct. 19 New Mexico Supreme Court document. On Aug. 23, 2006, as part of “Operation Yerba Buena 2006,” the police used a pair of Army National Guard helicopters to search for marijuana plants on the property of Norman Davis, reportedly flying as low as 50 ft above ground to make a positive identification. When ground officers confronted Davis, he gave written consent to search his property, leading to his arrest. Though Davis’ initial allegations of the search as unconstitutional were denied by a district court, the New Mexico Supreme Court on Monday determined that the warrantless aerial search—low enough to alarm neighbors and cause property damage from blowing debris—violated the Fourth Amendment. "The prolonged hovering close enough to the ground to cause interference with Davis’ property transformed this surveillance from a lawful observation of an area left open to public view to an unconstitutional intrusion into Davis’ expectation of privacy," the court document stated. As a result, evidence gathered during the search has been suppressed and Davis' conviction reversed.

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