Kyllo v. United States

Kyllo v. United States

United States Supreme Court
533 U.S. 27 (2001)

ISSUE: Is the use of a thermal imager to detect the heat output of a house in order to determine if high-intensity lights are being used an unconstitutional search if such details are not available otherwise without physical intrusion of the house?
**HOLDING: Yes, the surveillance is a "search" and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant when the government uses a device that is not in general public use to explore details of the home that would previously been unknowable without physical intrusion.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY:
  • Dist. Ct. refused to suppress the evidence as it determined that the imager was a non-intrusive device and no intimate details of the home were observed
  • Ct. App. affirmed holding that D had no subjective expectation of privacy because he made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home, and even if he did have such an expectation, it was not objectively reasonable
RULES:
  • Silverman: At the very core of the 4th Amdt. stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion
    • With very few exceptions, the question whether a warrantless search of a home is reasonable and hence constitutional must be answered no
  • Ciraolo: Warrantless visual surveillance of a home is not a "search" at all
  • Katz - Harlan: A 4th Amdt. search occurs when then government violates a subjective expectation of privacy that society recognizes as reasonable
REASONING:
  • Use of sense-enhancing technology was a search: Obtaining information through sense-enhancing technology that is not in general public use that could not otherwise be obtained without physical intrusion is a search because there is a minimum expectation of privacy that exists inside the home
    • More than just naked-eye visual observation
    • Off-the-wall surveillance was not allowed inKatz either by eavesdropping on the outside of the phone booth
    • That anything learned though an inference is not a search is not a valid assertion
  • Different than Dow Chemical: Enhanced aerial surveillance of an industrial complex is very different than surveillance of a home
    • All details in the home are intimate details because the entire area is held safe form prying governmental eyes
    • Prohibition of thermal imaging should not be limited to just intimate details because it would be wrong and unworkable
  • Bright-line test: The 4th Amdt. draws a firm, bright line at the entrance to the house in determining when a warrant is required for a search

 

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