Florida v. Riley Case Brief

Facts of the case

Michael Riley lived in a mobile home situated on five acres of rural land in Florida. Riley owned a greenhouse that was located behind his home from the ground, the contents of Riley’s greenhouse were shielded from view by its walls and the trees on his property. In 1984, the Pasco County Sheriff’s office received a tip that Riley was growing marijuana on his property. The investigating officer tried to see into the greenhouse from the ground but could not, so he circled in a helicopter at 400 feet and saw what he believed to be marijuana growing inside. Acting on this information, the investigating officer obtained a search warrant, searched the greenhouse, and found the marijuana. Riley was charged with possession of marijuana.Riley filed a motion to suppress the evidence obtained in the search. The trial court granted his motion and held that viewing his property from the air violated Riley’s reasonable expectation of privacy. The District Court of Appeal of Florida, Second District, reversed the trial court’s decision and denied Riley’s motion to dismiss the evidence. The appellate court also certified the case to the Supreme Court of Florida, which reinstated the trial court’s order to suppress the evidence.

Why is the case important?

An officer acting on anonymous tip observed marijuana in the interior of a respondent Riley’s partially covered greenhouse from the vantage point of a helicopter.


Are naked-eye observations of the curtilage of a property made from a helicopter 400 feet in the air a search for purposes of the Fourth Amendment for which a warrant must be obtained?


No. Reverse the judgment of the Florida Supreme Court suppressing the evidence.
There is no reasonable expectation that the contents of the respondent’s greenhouse were protected from public or official inspection from the air since he left its roof open.


The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Florida Supreme Court with a four-vote plurality, arguing that the accused did not have a reasonable expectation that the greenhouse was protected from aerial view, and thus that the helicopter surveillance did not constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment. However, the Court stopped short of allowing all aerial inspections of private property, noting that it was of obvious importancethat a private citizen could have legally flown in the same airspace.

  • Advocates: Parker D. Thomson on behalf of the Petitioner Marc H. Salton on behalf of the Respondent
  • Petitioner: Florida
  • Respondent: Michael A. Riley
  • DECIDED BY:Rehnquist Court
  • Location: Pasco County Sheriff’s Office
Citation: 488 US 445 (1989)
Argued: Oct 3, 1988
Decided: Jan 23, 1989
Granted: Feb 22, 1988
Florida v. Riley Case Brief