A recent report by the Franklin County Sheriff‘s office indicates that two drones equipped with cameras were the newest members of the police force in southern Washington. The report says the cameras use thermal imaging to locate not only suspected criminals but also people who are lost or missing. However, there are legal restrictions as to when and where these drones may be used, and anyone who is arrested based on drone surveillance might need the services of a criminal defense attorney.
Based on the Fourth Amendment, people are entitled to be private and secure in their homes and protected against searches and seizures without warrants. One such case involved a search carried out by federal officers in 1992. They used surveillance equipment that performed thermal imaging scans of a house across the road from their outlook post. The equipment indicated excessive heat in the garage, and they suspected indoor marijuana growing.
A search warrant was obtained, and 100 marijuana plants were discovered and seized by law enforcement. However, a Supreme Court ruling in 2001 said the thermal imaging constituted an unauthorized search without a warrant. The judge said the Fourth Amendment explicitly prohibits any surveillance that would typically require a warrant.
Anyone in Washington who suspects that drones are watching them with thermal imaging for which a warrant was not presented might be wise to discuss the issue with an experienced criminal defense attorney. Doing this even before an arrest might put a stop to the surveillance and any legal action that might follow. If the arrest has already been made, the lawyer can examine the procedures used by law enforcement to obtain evidence and address any irregularities in the court.