Thank You For Submiting Feedback!
It is well settled under the Fourth Amendment that a warrantless search is per se unreasonable subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions. Under Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, there are two ways in which government action may constitute a search. First, when the government gains information by physically intruding into a constitutionally protected area—namely, persons, houses, papers, and effects, U.S. Const. amend. IV—a search within the original meaning of the Fourth Amendment has undoubtedly occurred. Second, a search occurs when a government official invades an area in which a person has a constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.
Defendant Raheim Trice entered a conditional guilty plea to one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute in violation of 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1), (b)(1)(A)(viii), (B)(iii), and (C). He conditioned his plea on this appeal challenging the warrant issued to search his apartment. Law enforcement officers entered the common area of his apartment building and placed a camera disguised as a smoke detector on the wall across the hallway from the front door of his unit. The camera was equipped with a motion detector and set to activate whenever the door to his apartment opened. The camera made several videos of defendant entering and exiting, and this information was used in an affidavit in support of the search warrant. Law enforcement executed the warrant and seized drugs and other paraphernalia consistent with distribution. Defendant contended that the use of the camera violated his Fourth Amendment rights.
Under the circumstances, was the use of camera violative of the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights?
The court affirmed the denial of defendant's motion to suppress under Fourth Amendment because the defendant had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the apartment's unlocked common hallway where the camera recorded the footage and law enforcement may use video to record what police could have seen from a publicly accessible location. Although the camera was placed inside an apartment building rather than on a utility pole (as was more typical), the camera captured nothing beyond the fact of defendant's entry and exit into the apartment and did not provide law enforcement any information they could not have learned through ordinary visual surveillance.