California v. Ciraolo

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California v. Ciraolo
Argued December 10, 1985
Decided May 19, 1986
Full case nameCalifornia v. Ciraolo
Citations476 U.S. 207 (more)
106 S. Ct. 1809; 90 L. Ed. 2d 210
Case history
PriorPleaded guilty in trial court; reversed by California Court of Appeal
The Fourth Amendment was not violated by the naked-eye aerial observation of respondent's backyard.
Court membership
Chief Justice
Warren E. Burger
Associate Justices
William J. Brennan Jr. · Byron White
Thurgood Marshall · Harry Blackmun
Lewis F. Powell Jr. · William Rehnquist
John P. Stevens · Sandra Day O'Connor
Case opinions
MajorityBurger, joined by White, Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor
DissentPowell, joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986), was a decision by the Supreme Court of the United States in which the Court held that aerial observation of a person's backyard by police, even if done without a search warrant, does not violate the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In the case, police in Santa Clara, California flew a private airplane over the property of Dante Ciraolo and took aerial photographs of his backyard after receiving an anonymous tip that he was growing marijuana plants.


Dante Carlo Ciraolo grew marijuana plants in his backyard, shielded from view by two fences. After receiving an anonymous tip, the Santa Clara police sent officers in a private airplane to fly over and take aerial photographs of his property at an altitude of 1,000 feet. Based on an officer's naked eye observation, a search warrant was granted. After the trial court rejected Ciraolo's motion to suppress the evidence (under the exclusionary rule), he pleaded guilty. The California Court of Appeal reversed the decision, holding that the aerial observation was an intrusion into the curtilage of his home and therefore the Fourth Amendment.[1]

Opinion of the Court[edit]

Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote for the 5-4 majority, referring to Katz v. United States. He concluded, “The Fourth Amendment simply does not require the police traveling in the public airways at this altitude to obtain a warrant in order to observe what is visible to the naked eye.”

Dissenting opinion[edit]

Justice Powell wrote a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Blackmun joined. Also citing Katz, Powell argued that the decision ignored that case's two-part test.

In arguing that Ciraolo did have a reasonable expectation of privacy, Powell notes:

the actual risk to privacy from commercial or pleasure aircraft is virtually nonexistent. Travelers on commercial flights, as well as private planes used for business or personal reason, normally obtain at most a fleeting, anonymous, and nondiscriminating glimpse of the landscape and buildings over which they pass. The risk that a passenger on such a plane might observe private activities, and might connect those activities with particular people, is simply too trivial to protect against.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ McInnis, Thomas N. (2010). The Evolution of the Fourth Amendment. Lexington Books. p. 268. ISBN 9780739129777.

External links[edit]