INTRODUCTION: In Kyllo vs. United States, 533 U.S. 27 (2001), the police, believing there to be a marijuana set-up in the defendant’s place of residence, acquired a warrant to ascertain this for certain through use of a thermal-imaging scan. The scan, which was conducted outside the premises and measured heat signatures on the building relative to other residences in the same triplex. This brought the question of unreasonable search and seizure before the Court, but more significantly, the question of where the line should be drawn regarding the use of new advances in technology.
FACTS OF THE CASE: Police, suspecting that the defendant, Kyllo, was growing substantial amounts of marijuana inside his unit of a triplex residence, scanned the units from outside by means of a device that measured heat signatures. This provided information on the amount of heat originating within the residence. The thermal scan revealed that a portion of Kyllo’s roof and wall had higher temperatures relative to other areas of the building, being significantly hotter than the attached units. As this information proved consistent with that of the grow-lamps used for indoor marijuana propagation, it provided the support needed to gain a warrant to search the residence. A judge issued the warrant, and agents discovered a substantial marijuana grow operation. The defendant was subsequently arraigned on federal drug charges. Kyllo attempted without success to subdue all evidence that had been removed from his home through the warrant, and entered a conditional plea of guilty (Justia, 2015).
The District Court determined, in an evidentiary hearing, that the police department’s use of thermal imaging did not quali...
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SIGNIFICANCE: This case holds much greater significance than simply the admission or suppression of evidence in a case such as Kyllo’s. The decision in the case impacts the struggle between the government’s ability and privilege of obtaining information and the individual’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy. The advent of increasingly sophisticated technologies makes this relationship a progressively murky one. Technologies such as the thermal imaging used in the Kyllo case are considered by the Court to be a threat to our individual privacies—exactly what the Fourth Amendment attempts to guard with its protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Kyllo v. United States was important in that it provided the Court the chance to offer a clear opinion on the coexistence of the Fourth Amendment and the ever-adapting nature of technology (ABA, 2016).
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