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Date: Jan. 2022
From: Harvard Law Review(Vol. 135, Issue 3)
Publisher: Harvard Law Review Association
Document Type: Case note
Length: 3,988 words
Lexile Measure: 2120L

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Criminal Procedure--Fourth Amendment--Seventh Circuit Holds Long-Term, Warrantless Video Surveillance Is Not an Illegal Search.--United States v. Tuggle, 4 F.4th 505 (7th Cir. 2021).

Digital cameras are cheaper, smaller, and more easily connected than ever before, and the costs of storing footage have plummeted. (1) It's no surprise, then, that law enforcement is putting them to new uses. Recently, in United States v. Tuggle, (2) the Seventh Circuit found no Fourth Amendment search occurred when police watched a suspect's home around the clock for eighteen months using cameras they installed on nearby utility poles. (3) In finding no search, the court missed a chance to clarify a murky area of Fourth Amendment law by building on recent Supreme Court rulings on prolonged tracking. The court should have held that this extensive monitoring was a search, bolstering privacy protections as increasingly invasive surveillance technologies proliferate.

In 2013, several federal agencies began investigating a large meth ring in Illinois. (4) Travis Tuggle soon emerged as a key suspect. (5) Without seeking a warrant, (6) federal agents installed a camera on a nearby utility pole with a clear view of his driveway and the front of his residence in order to surveil him unnoticed. (7) They later added a second camera to the same pole and a third one a block away. (8) The cameras were basic but effective, and the government ran them continuously for eighteen months. (9) Over that period, the cameras recorded nearly 100 suspected meth deliveries at Tuggle's house. (10) Investigators determined that Tuggle's operation had distributed over twenty kilograms of meth, (11) and the pole camera footage helped indict him on two drug charges. (12)

Tuggle moved to suppress the pole camera evidence, arguing that filming his yard and home for eighteen months without a warrant was an impermissible search that violated the Fourth Amendment. (13) The district court denied his motion. (14) First, the court applied the test from Katz v. United States, (15) which asks whether the target of an alleged search had an actual expectation of privacy, and if so, whether society would recognize that expectation as reasonable. (16) The court found that Tuggle had neither a subjective nor an objective expectation of privacy in the front of his house. (17) The court then concluded that the eighteen-month duration of the surveillance was also permissible. (18) Tuggle pled guilty before trial but reserved his right to appeal the denials of his motions to suppress. (19) The district court sentenced him to thirty years in prison, and Tuggle then appealed. (20)

The Seventh Circuit affirmed. (21) Writing for a unanimous panel, Judge Flaum (22) decided that the surveillance of Tuggle was not a search, although he called the case a "harbinger" of the growing challenge of applying Fourth Amendment protections to shifting surveillance technologies. (23) Tuggle argued that his reasonable expectations had been violated in two ways. First, he claimed that any use of pole cameras outside his house was an unreasonable search, regardless of the duration....

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A690097711