Sunday, November 3, 2013

Kyllo v. United States case brief

Kyllo v. United States case brief summary
533 U.S. 27 (2001)

Petitioner was indicted of manufacturing marijuana after police discovered an indoor growing operation using a thermal-imaging device from the street. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of petitioner's motion to suppress. Petition for writ of certiorari was granted to determine whether the thermal-imaging was a search under U.S. Constitutional Amendment IV.

The police had aimed a thermal-imaging device at petitioner's residence after a police detective suspected that petitioner was growing marijuana. Based on the thermal-imaging information, police obtained a search warrant for the residence. The lower court held that petitioner had shown no subjective expectation of privacy as he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home and even if he had, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the imager did not expose any intimate details of petitioner's life.


  • The appellate court concluded that obtaining information regarding the interior of the home that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical intrusion into a constitutionally protected area, such as petitioner's private residence, constituted a search, at least where the technology was not in general public use. 
  • Since thermal imaging technology was not in general public use, such a surveillance was a search and was presumptively unreasonable without a warrant. 
  • Whether the search warrant was supported by probable cause without the surveillance evidence was for the trial court to determine in the first instance.


Judgment was reversed and the case was remanded.

Recommended Supplements for Criminal Procedure Criminal Procedure: Examples & Explanations, Sixth Edition
Emanuel Law Outline: Criminal Procedure

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