Case law for law enforcement drones

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I am in the process of starting a drone unit for the Perry County Sheriff's Office in Perryville Missouri.  Our prosecutor has asked that I look for any case law in the use of UAS for searches under the Open Fields Doctrine, or where a search was conducted in the "open fields" area prior to obtaining a search warrant.  I know SCOTUS has made clear the 4th Amendment is not violated under Open Fields, but I don't know that they have ever extended this to drone flights instead of tromping through the area on foot.  Does anyone know of any case law in Missouri or elsewhere addressing this issue?

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  • 1 month later...  It is a little too early for drone v. open fields case law.  Here are the laws across the country and that is kind of regulating the use now.  I have not heard of anything yet.  But if you become the first case, keep us updated....:)


Edited by k9ric
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  • 4 months later...

I am just getting started on similar research.  So far, I have found these to be relevant cases:


U.S. v. Causby - Citizen does not own airspace above private property.

Dow Chemical Co. v. U.S. - Industrial areas have less expectation of privacy, not curtilage.  Also, $20k mapmaking camera is "conventional" technology in use.

California v. Ciraolo - Even w/fenced yard, air travelers can see same thing, LE not required to "shield eyes"

Florida v. Riley - Helicopter over greenhouse @ 400ft to look through missing roof panels, no warrant needed.  Helicopter travel in this area "not unheard of," or "sufficiently rare" and others could see same thing.


Kyllo v. U.S. - using technology to see through walls/into residence

Florida v. Jardines - K9 sniff/technology from curtilage (porch)

Bond v. U.S. - Even if exposed to public view, not intended to be observed in "exploratory manner."

Silverman v. U.S. - Need a warrant for "technology not in general public use."


With the increasing popularity of drones, it seems to me that such technology is "in general public use."  On the surface, it seems like LE is allowed to fly drones over properties for observation and to use camera systems.  FLIR and other more advanced technology would need a warrant.  When you get into things such as ARGUS, SolarEagle, RoboBee, then it does become more intrusive and would probably need a warrant.  Hopefully the above-mentioned cases can give you a starting point with your Prosecutor.  As I find more relevant cases I will post back.

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