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It may be that the privacy concerns implicated by a fixed point of surveillance are not so great as those implicated by GPS tracking. Thus, long-term warrantless surveillance via a stationary pole camera does not violate a defendant's Fourth Amendment rights when it was possible for any member of the public to have observed the defendant's activities during the surveillance period.
Rocky Houston was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). At trial, the primary evidence against Houston was video footage of his possessing firearms at his and his brother's rural Tennessee farm. The footage was recorded over the course of ten weeks by a camera installed on top of a public utility pole approximately 200 yards away. Before trial, the district court rejected all of Houston's various motions to suppress and motions in limine. First, the district court denied Houston's motion to suppress video footage obtained from the pole camera. The district court ruled that even if the long-term warrantless surveillance violated Houston's Fourth Amendment rights, the exclusionary rule would not bar admission of the evidence due to the good-faith exception. Additionally, regarding Houston's argument that the video footage that was recorded after the agents obtained a warrant should be suppressed due to lack of probable cause supporting the warrant, the district court ruled that the warrant was supported by probable cause based on the previous warrantless footage as well as the statements from four individuals that Houston openly possessed firearms at his farm. Houston appealed.
Did the ten-week warrantless surveillance via a stationary pole camera violate Houston’s Fourth Amendment rights?
The court held that the suppression of the video footage was not warranted under the Fourth Amendment, because Houston had no reasonable expectation of privacy in video footage recorded by a camera that was located on top of a public utility pole and that captured the same views enjoyed by passersby on public roads. It was not an abuse of discretion to admit video and photographic evidence obtained from the pole camera even though it could not be proved that the firearms in the images were the same firearms seized on January 11, 2013, because the evidence was relevant and not unduly prejudicial in proving Houston’s continuous and uninterrupted possession of firearms. It was not an abuse of discretion to permit an agent to offer his lay opinions identifying Houston and firearms in the videos.