Drone surveillance case goes to MI Supreme Court docket

Warrantless Drone Surveillance Case Will Be Heard at Michigan Supreme Court

It’s a case which has become textbook material for the drone industry (there’s a great article in JDSupra here discussing the potential impact on commercial drone operations.) Can government or public safety agencies use a drone for surveillance over your property without a warrant – and then use that evidence in court? Today, the Institute for Justice reports, the Michigan Supreme Court has agreed to take the case.

the case

Todd and Heather Maxon own property in Long Lake Township, MI. Town officials complain that the Maxons, who store multiple old cars and other items on their 5-acre rural property, are in violation of the zoning requirements. To prove it, zoning officials flew a drone over the Maxon’s property, taking photos and videos which they later used as part of a zoning violation case.

“The Maxons, represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), are asking the court to hold that the government violated their Fourth Amendment rights and can’t use its illegally obtained photos and videos to punish them,” says the Institute of Justice press release.

“The government cannot intrude on your home with a drone to surveil you—without a warrant—then use the information it gathered against you in court,” said IJ Attorney Mike Greenberg. “That is precisely the kind of snooping the Fourth Amendment exists to guard against, and we look forward to arguing exactly that to the state supreme court’s justices.”

“Like every American, I have a right to be secure on my property without being watched by a government drone,” said Todd. “I’m thrilled the court will be hearing our arguments so that we can vindicate that right for everyone.”

The Ongoing Argument

In September 2022, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the zoning officials – saying that Fourth Amendment protections just doesn’t apply fo civil code enforcement.

“But the Fourth Amendment applies to all government officials, and our right to be free from unreasonable searches doesn’t turn on what those searches are hoping to discover,” says the Institute of Justice, arguing that you can’t “slice and dice ” the Fourth Amendment and decide which government departments it applies to.

Now, the case continues at the state Supreme Court – and the textbooks may need to be updated again. This case is one in IJ’s Project on the Fourth Amendment, which seeks to vindicate the right to be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures.

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Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

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