The Rehnquist Court (1986–2005)

Criminal Justice

Is it an unreasonable search when officers hover in a helicopter 400 feet above a home and observe illegal activity?

No, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Florida v. Riley (1989) that a law enforcement officer’s naked-eye observation of a partially covered greenhouse at a residence from a helicopter circling 400 feet above did not constitute a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. “Any member of the public could legally have been flying over Riley’s property in a helicopter at the altitude of 400 feet and could have observed Riley’s greenhouse,” the Court wrote. “The police officer did no more.”


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