Kyllo v U.S., 998508

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtScalia
Citation150 L.Ed.2d 94,121 S.Ct. 2038,533 U.S. 27
Parties DANNY LEE KYLLO, PETITIONER v. UNITED STATESSUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES
Docket Number998508
Decision Date11 June 2001

533 U.S. 27
121 S.Ct. 2038
150 L.Ed.2d 94

NOTICE: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the preliminary print of the United States Reports. Readers are requested to notify the Reporter of Decisions, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D. C. 20543, of any typographical or other formal errors, in order that corrections may be made before the preliminary print goes to press.

DANNY LEE KYLLO, PETITIONER
v.
UNITED STATES

No. 99-8508.

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

Argued February 20, 2001
Decided June 11, 2001

Syllabus

Suspicious that marijuana was being grown in petitioner Kyllo's home in a triplex, agents used a thermal imaging device to scan the triplex to determine if the amount of heat emanating from it was consistent with the high-intensity lamps typically used for indoor marijuana growth. The scan showed that Kyllo's garage roof and a side wall were relatively hot compared to the rest of his home and substantially warmer than the neighboring units. Based in part on the thermal imaging, a Federal Magistrate Judge issued a warrant to search Kyllo's home, where the agents found marijuana growing. After Kyllo was indicted on a federal drug charge, he unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home and then entered a conditional guilty plea. The Ninth Circuit ultimately affirmed, upholding the thermal imaging on the ground that Kyllo had shown no subjective expectation of privacy because he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home. Even if he had, ruled the court, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the thermal imager did not expose any intimate details of Kyllo's life, only amorphous hot spots on his home's exterior.

Held: Where, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of a private home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a Fourth Amendment "search," and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant. Pp. 3-13.

(a) The question whether a warrantless search of a home is reasonable and hence constitutional must be answered no in most instances, but the antecedent question whether a Fourth Amendment "search" has occurred is not so simple. This Court has approved warrantless visual surveillance of a home, see California v. Ciraolo, 476 U.S. 207, 213, ruling that visual observation is no "search" at all, see Dow Chemical Co. v. United States, 476 U.S. 227, 234-235, 239. In assessing when a search is not a search, the Court has adapted a principle first enunciated in Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 361: A "search" does not occur-even when its object is a house explicitly protected by the Fourth Amendment-unless the individual manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the searched object, and society is willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable, see, e.g., California v. Ciraolo, supra, at 211. Pp. 3-5.

(b) While it may be difficult to refine the Katz test in some instances, in the case of the search of a home's interior-the prototypical and hence most commonly litigated area of protected privacy-there is a ready criterion, with roots deep in the common law, of the minimal expectation of privacy that exists, and that is acknowledged to be reasonable. To withdraw protection of this minimum expectation would be to permit police technology to erode the privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Thus, obtaining by sense-enhancing technology any information regarding the home's interior that could not otherwise have been obtained without physical "intrusion into a constitutionally protected area," Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 512, constitutes a search-at least where (as here) the technology in question is not in general public use. This assures preservation of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted. Pp. 6-7.

(c) Based on this criterion, the information obtained by the thermal imager in this case was the product of a search. The Court rejects the Government's argument that the thermal imaging must be upheld because it detected only heat radiating from the home's external surface. Such a mechanical interpretation of the Fourth Amendment was rejected in Katz, where the eavesdropping device in question picked up only sound waves that reached the exterior of the phone booth to which it was attached. Reversing that approach would leave the homeowner at the mercy of advancing technology-including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home. Also rejected is the Government's contention that the thermal imaging was constitutional because it did not detect "intimate details." Such an approach would be wrong in principle because, in the sanctity of the home, all details are intimate details. See e.g., United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705; Dow Chemical, supra, at 238, distinguished. It would also be impractical in application, failing to provide a workable accommodation between law enforcement needs and Fourth Amendment interests. See Oliver v. United States, 466 U.S. 170, 181. Pp. 7-12.

(d) Since the imaging in this case was an unlawful search, it will remain for the District Court to determine whether, without the evidence it provided, the search warrant was supported by probable cause-and if not, whether there is any other basis for supporting admission of that evidence. Pp. 12-13. 190 F.3d 1041, reversed and remanded.

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Souter, Thomas, Ginsburg, and Breyer, JJ., joined.

Opinion of the Court

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether the use of a thermal-imaging device aimed at a private home from a public street to detect relative amounts of heat within the home constitutes a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

I

In 1991 Agent William Elliott of the United States Department of the Interior came to suspect that marijuana was being grown in the home belonging to petitioner Danny Kyllo, part of a triplex on Rhododendron Drive in Florence, Oregon. Indoor marijuana growth typically requires high-intensity lamps. In order to determine whether an amount of heat was emanating from petitioner's home consistent with the use of such lamps, at 3:20 a.m. on January 16, 1992, Agent Elliott and Dan Haas used an Agema Thermovision 210 thermal imager to scan the triplex. Thermal imagers detect infrared radiation, which virtually all objects emit but which is not visible to the naked eye. The imager converts radiation into images based on relative warmth-black is cool, white is hot, shades of gray connote relative differences; in that respect, it operates somewhat like a video camera showing heat images. The scan of Kyllo's home took only a few minutes and was performed from the passenger seat of Agent Elliott's vehicle across the street from the front of the house and also from the street in back of the house. The scan showed that the roof over the garage and a side wall of petitioner's home were relatively hot compared to the rest of the home and substantially warmer than neighboring homes in the triplex. Agent Elliott concluded that petitioner was using halide lights to grow marijuana in his house, which indeed he was. Based on tips from informants, utility bills, and the thermal imaging, a Federal Magistrate Judge issued a warrant authorizing a search of petitioner's home, and the agents found an indoor growing operation involving more than 100 plants. Petitioner was indicted on one count of manufacturing marijuana, in violation of 21 U.S.C. 841(a)(1). He unsuccessfully moved to suppress the evidence seized from his home and then entered a conditional guilty plea.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing regarding the intrusiveness of thermal imaging. On remand the District Court found that the Agema 210 "is a non-intrusive device which emits no rays or beams and shows a crude visual image of the heat being radiated from the outside of the house"; it "did not show any people or activity within the walls of the structure"; "[t]he device used cannot penetrate walls or windows to reveal conversations or human activities"; and "[n]o intimate details of the home were observed." Supp. App. to Pet. for Cert. 39-40. Based on these findings, the District Court upheld the validity of the warrant that relied in part upon the thermal imaging, and reaffirmed its denial of the motion to suppress. A divided Court of Appeals initially reversed, 140 F.3d 1249 (1998), but that opinion was withdrawn and the panel (after a change in composition) affirmed, 190 F.3d 1041 (1999), with Judge Noonan dissenting. The court held that petitioner had shown no subjective expectation of privacy because he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home, id., at 1046, and even if he had, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the imager "did not expose any intimate details of Kyllo's life," only "amorphous 'hot spots' on the roof and exterior wall," id., at 1047. We granted certiorari. 530 U.S. 1305 (2000).

II

The Fourth Amendment provides that "[t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated." "At the very core" of the Fourth Amendment "stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion." Silverman v. United States, 365 U.S. 505, 511 (1961). With few exceptions, the question whether a warrantless search of a home is reasonable and hence constitutional must be answered no. See Illinois v. Rodriguez, 497 U.S. 177, 181 (1990); Payton v. New...

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1388 practice notes
  • Doe v. Heck, No. 01-3648.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2003
    ...the governmental conduct in question constitutes a search or seizure within the meaning of the amendment's text. Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 31, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001); Brokaw, 235 F.3d at 1010. In this case, defendants Wichman and Heck, with the assistance of the po......
  • United States v. Wurie, No. 11–1792.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 17, 2013
    ...of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.’ ” (quoting Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 34, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001))). We therefore reverse the denial of Wurie's motion to suppress, vacate his conviction, and remand for......
  • U.S. v. Gray, No. 05-4397.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 2, 2007
    ...government intrusion "has never been tied to measurement of the quality or quantity of information obtained." Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 37, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001). Indeed, notions of privacy would mean little if they crumpled on the finding of inculpatory Although ......
  • Turpin v. Ray, Civil Action No.: 17-2453 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 12, 2018
    ...question and when that expectation of privacy is one that "society [is] willing to recognize ... as reasonable." Kyllo v. United States , 533 U.S. 27, 33, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001) (alternation in original). While a strong body of case law both within this Circuit and others has......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1361 cases
  • Doe v. Heck, No. 01-3648.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 16, 2003
    ...the governmental conduct in question constitutes a search or seizure within the meaning of the amendment's text. Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 31, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001); Brokaw, 235 F.3d at 1010. In this case, defendants Wichman and Heck, with the assistance of the po......
  • United States v. Wurie, No. 11–1792.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • May 17, 2013
    ...of that degree of privacy against government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adopted.’ ” (quoting Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 34, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001))). We therefore reverse the denial of Wurie's motion to suppress, vacate his conviction, and remand for......
  • U.S. v. Gray, No. 05-4397.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
    • July 2, 2007
    ...government intrusion "has never been tied to measurement of the quality or quantity of information obtained." Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 37, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001). Indeed, notions of privacy would mean little if they crumpled on the finding of inculpatory Although ......
  • Turpin v. Ray, Civil Action No.: 17-2453 (RC)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • July 12, 2018
    ...question and when that expectation of privacy is one that "society [is] willing to recognize ... as reasonable." Kyllo v. United States , 533 U.S. 27, 33, 121 S.Ct. 2038, 150 L.Ed.2d 94 (2001) (alternation in original). While a strong body of case law both within this Circuit and others has......
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23 books & journal articles
  • A SOLUTION FOR THE THIRD-PARTY DOCTRINE IN A TIME OF DATA SHARING, CONTACT TRACING, AND MASS SURVEILLANCE.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 2, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...(89) David A. Sklansky, Back to the Future: Kyllo, Katz, and Common Law, 72 Miss. L.J. 143, 202 (2002); see to Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 47 (2001) (Stevens, J., dissenting) ("[I]t seems likely thai the threat to privacy will grow, rather than recede, as the use of intrusive equip......
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    • Michigan Law Review Vol. 120 Nbr. 2, November 2021
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    ...carry these devices around with them and bring them everywhere they travel, even to sensitive appointments and private meetings. Id. (74.) 533 U.S. 27,40(2001). (75.) Kyllo, 533 U.S. at (76.) See Kerr, supra note 23, at 541. (77.) 560 U.S. 746, 758-59 (2010). Resolving the case on narrower ......
  • Rethinking Police Expertise.
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    • Yale Law Journal Vol. 131 Nbr. 2, November 2021
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    ...Knotts, 460 U.S. 276, 277 (1983). (400.) See Dow Chem. Co. v. United States, 476 U.S. 227, 239 (1986). (401.) See Kyllo v. United States, 533 U.S. 27, 38-40 (402.) E.g., United States v. Whaley, 779 F.2d 585, 592 (11th Cir. 1986); United States v. Christensen, 524 F. Supp. 344, 347 (N.D. 11......
  • STINGRAY STUNG? ANALYZING CELLPHONES AS EFFECTS PROVIDES FOURTH AMENDMENT TREATMENT.
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    • Harvard Journal of Law & Technology Vol. 34 Nbr. 2, March 2021
    • March 22, 2021
    ...Act, and a Legislator's Guide to Amending it, 72 GEO. WASH. L. REV. 1208, 1210 (2004) [hereinafter Kerr, A User's Guide]. (89.) 533 U.S. 27, 40 (2001) (finding that the use of a thermal imaging device (FLIR) from a public vantage point to monitor the radiation of heat from a person's home w......
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