California v. Ciraolo

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California v. Ciraolo
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued December 10, 1985
Decided May 19, 1986
Full case name California v. Ciraolo
Citations 476 U.S. 207 (more)
476 U.S. 207
Prior history Pled 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
Case opinions
Majority Burger, joined by White, Rehnquist, Stevens, O'Connor
Dissent Powell, joined by Brennan, Marshall, Blackmun
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amend. IV

California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207 (1986), was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court, in which it ruled that warrantless aerial observation of a person's backyard did not violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.


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 photograph his house 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 violated the curtilage of his home and therefore the Fourth Amendment.

The Court's Decision[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."


Justice Powell wrote for the dissent. Also citing Katz, he argued that the decision ignored that case's two-part test.

He highlighted that Ciraolo did have a reasonable expectation of privacy as "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."

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