TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – A couple in northern Michigan is seeking the Michigan high court’s ear in a case that involves drone photographs of the homeowners’ property and possible fourth amendment violations.
The high court has agreed to hear oral arguments regarding the case and will determine if the Long Lake Township officials have violated the constitutional rights of Todd and Heather Maxon.
“Like every American, I have a right to be secure on my property without being watched by a government drone,” Todd Maxon said according to WOODTV.
As early as 2007, the Long Lake Township brought a zoning action against Todd because of his “storage of junk cars on the property,” according to court documents. The case was settled a year later when Todd agreed to maintain the status quo, or the same number of junked cars. The township got involved again when neighboring properties reported that the junk yard had expanded prompting the township to hire a third party to take aerial drone photos for several consecutive years of the property.
A suit was filed against the township nearly five years ago by the couple who argued that the photographic evidence captured by the drones should be thrown out because it was an invasion of privacy and violation because citizens are protected against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Ultimately, the Grand Traverse Circuit Court denied their request to suppress the images, which had been collected as evidence that there was a substantial increase in the amount of junk on the property which would violate a zoning ordinance banning illegal salvage or junkyards.
However, in 2021, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the drone footage of their backyard had violated a “reasonable” amount of expected privacy according to the Detroit News.
“If a governmental entity has any kind of nontrivial and objective reason to believe there would be value in flying a drone over a person’s property, as did plaintiff here, then we trust the entity will probably be able to persuade a court to grant a warrant or equivalent permission to conduct a search,” wrote Court of Appeals Judge Kathleen Jansen in the 2021 majority opinion.
The Michigan Supreme Court is set to hear the case after the Court of Appeals ruled in September that the “exclusionary rule” – an added step in cases pertaining to Fourth Amendment violations – did not apply to the case because the rule is generally limited to criminal cases in order to deter “future police conduct.”