The highest court in Michigan has agreed to review a case involving a government’s warrantless search of a privately owned property, by the use of drones.
The Institute for Justice has revealed the Michigan Supreme Court will consider the case involving Todd and Heather Maxon, whose property was targeted by Long Lake Township officials with drones that delivered to them detailed photographs and videos.
The institute explained the issue is whether a government can search a private property – without permission and without a warrant – by using drones.
And then use whatever it thinks it finds in court.
“For two years, Long Lake Township zoning officials flew a sophisticated drone over Todd and Heather Maxon’s property, taking detailed photographs and videos as part of a zoning dispute,” the IJ said.
That, the Maxons and the IJ are arguing, violated the Fourth Amendment and photos and videos obtained cannot be used in court.
“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,” explained 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.”
The IJ explained that Todd spends his free time fixing up vehicles on his five acres. He keeps the vehicles away from public view and he doesn’t bother neighbors.
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But zoning officials were infuriated.
“For years, officials have been trying to pin some violation of the zoning code on the Maxons. The government first brought a code enforcement lawsuit against them in 2007, claiming they’d illegally stored ‘junk’ on the property. The Maxons fought the case and won, with the government agreeing to a favorable settlement in which it agreed to drop the lawsuit against them and reimbursed the Maxons for their attorneys’ fees,” the IJ said.
But Long Lake changed its zoning code and used the changes against the Maxons, flying a drone over their property for two years.
With no warrant.
“Now the government wants to use the collected photos and videos as evidence in a zoning enforcement lawsuit to punish the couple for alleged code violations,” the IJ said.
“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.”
A lower court in Michigan previously had ruled that even if officials violated the Constitution, they still would be allowed to benefit from their illegal actions.
In that court’s view, “any evidence the government uncovers can be used against you in civil code-enforcement proceedings, even if the government deliberately violated your rights when uncovering that evidence.”
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