California v. Ciraolo

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California v. Ciraolo (1986)
1173370California v. Ciraolo — Syllabus1986
Court Documents
Dissenting Opinion

Supreme Court of the United States

476 U.S. 207

California  v.  Ciraolo

Certiorari to the Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District

No. 84-1513  Argued: December 10, 1985 --- Decided: May 19, 1986

The Santa Clara, Cal., police received an anonymous telephone tip that marijuana was growing in respondent's backyard, which was enclosed by two fences and shielded from view at ground level. Officers who were trained in marijuana identification secured a private airplane, flew over respondent's house at an altitude of 1,000 feet, and readily identified marijuana plants growing in the yard. A search warrant was later obtained on the basis of one of the officer's naked-eye observations; a photograph of the surrounding area taken from the airplane was attached as an exhibit. The warrant was executed, and marijuana plants were seized. After the California trial court denied respondent's motion to suppress the evidence of the search, he pleaded guilty to a charge of cultivation of marijuana. The California Court of Appeal reversed on the ground that the warrantless aerial observation of respondent's yard violated the Fourth Amendment.

Held: The Fourth Amendment was not violated by the naked-eye aerial observation of respondent's backyard. Pp. 211-215.

(a) The touchstone of Fourth Amendment analysis is whether a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy, which involves the two inquiries of whether the individual manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the object of the challenged search, and whether society is willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable. Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347. In pursuing the second inquiry, the test of legitimacy is not whether the individual chooses to conceal assertedly "private activity," but whether the government's intrusion infringes upon the personal and societal values protected by the Fourth Amendment. Pp. 211-212.

(b) On the record here, respondent's expectation of privacy from all observations of his backyard was unreasonable. That the backyard and its crop were within the "curtilage" of respondent's home did not itself bar all police observation. The mere fact that an individual has taken measures to restrict some views of his activities does not preclude an officer's observation from a public vantage point where he has a right to be and which renders the activities clearly visible. The police observations here took place within public navigable airspace, in a physically nonintrusive manner. The police were able to observe the [476 U.S. 207, 208] plants readily discernible to the naked eye as marijuana, and it was irrelevant that the observation from the airplane was directed at identifying the plants and that the officers were trained to recognize marijuana. Any member of the public flying in this airspace who cared to glance down could have seen everything that the officers observed. The Fourth Amendment simply does not require police traveling in the public airways at 1,000 feet to obtain a warrant in order to observe what is visible to the naked eye. Pp. 212-215.

161 Cal. App. 3d 1081, 208 Cal. Rptr. 93, reversed.

Burger, C. J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which White, Rehnquist, Stevens, and O'Connor, JJ., joined. Powell, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun, JJ., joined, post, p. 215.

Laurence K. Sullivan, Deputy Attorney General of California, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were John K. Van de Kamp, Attorney General, Steve White, Chief Assistant Attorney General, and Eugene W. Kaster, Deputy Attorney General.

Marshall Warren Krause, by appointment of the Court, 472 U.S. 1025, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Pamela Holmes Duncan.[1]


  1. . Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the State of Indiana et al. by Linley E. Pearson, Attorney General of Indiana, William E. Daily and Lisa M. Paunicka, Deputy Attorneys General, Charles A. Graddick, Attorney General of Alabama, Charles M. Oberly, Attorney General of Delaware, Michael J. Bowers, Attorney General of Georgia, Neil F. Hartigan, Attorney General of Illinois, Robert T. Stephan, Attorney General of Kansas, David L. Armstrong, Attorney General of Kentucky, William J. Guste, Jr., Attorney General of Louisiana, James E. Tierney, Attorney General of Maine, Francis X. Bellotti, Attorney General of Massachusetts, William L. Webster, Attorney General of Missouri, Robert M. Spire, Attorney General-Designate of Nebraska, Brian McKay, Attorney General of Nevada, Stephen E. Merrill, Attorney General of New Hampshire, Paul Bardacke, Attorney General of New Mexico, Anthony Celebrezze, Attorney General of Ohio, LeRoy S. Zimmerman, Attorney General of Pennsylvania, Travis Medlock, Attorney General of South Carolina, Jeffrey Amestoy, Attorney General of Vermont, Gerald L. Baliles, Attorney General of Virginia, Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Attorney General of Washington, and Archie G. McClintock, Attorney General of Wyoming; for Americans for Effective Law Enforcement Inc. et al. by Fred E. Inbau, Wayne W. Schmidt, James P. Manak, David Crump, and Daniel B. Hales; for the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation by Christopher N. Heard; and for the Washington Legal Foundation by Daniel J. Popeo and George C. Smith.

Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. by C. Douglas Floyd, Alan L. Schlosser, and Charles S. Sims; for the Civil Liberties Monitoring Project by Amitai Schwartz; and for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers by John Kenneth Zwerling.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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