Florida v. Riley

RESPONDENT: Michael A. Riley
LOCATION: Pasco County Sheriff’s Office

DOCKET NO.: 87-764
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1988-1990)
LOWER COURT: Florida Supreme Court

CITATION: 488 US 445 (1989)
ARGUED: Oct 03, 1988
DECIDED: Jan 23, 1989
GRANTED: Feb 22, 1988

Marc H. Salton - on behalf of the Respondent
Parker D. Thomson - on behalf of the Petitioner

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.


Did the police officer violate the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy by observing his property from a helicopter with the naked eye?

Media for Florida v. Riley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 03, 1988 in Florida v. Riley

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument now in Case No. 87-764, Florida against Riley.

Mr. Thomson, you may proceed whenever you're ready.

Parker D. Thomson:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the barebones facts in this case are set forth in the trial court's order granting a motion to suppress the evidence in this case.

They were reprinted in the text of the intermediate appellate order which reached the contrary conclusion.

And they were described by the Supreme Court in reversing again.

These facts were, first, that Defendant Riley had leased an over five acre parcel in Pasco County, Florida on which he placed his mobile home and nearby constructed a shed, described by the trial court as a greenhouse.

The greenhouse was some 10 to 20 feet from the mobile home.

The greenhouse, as constructed by the defendant, was enclosed on two sides and open on two sides.

Trees and shrubbery obscured one of the open sides from view.

The mobile home and one or more other trees obscured the other open side from view from the nearby road.

William H. Rehnquist:

Does the record show the dimensions of the greenhouse, Mr. Thomson?

Parker D. Thomson:

It does not, your Honor.

Does it show now far from the road?

Parker D. Thomson:

Nor does it show how far from the road.

It is a barebones record.

It does not show... there are six photographs in the record which are mainly concentrated on the mobile home and the greenhouse.

The roof of the greenhouse was corrugated roofing, partly translucent, partly opaque.

There were two openings caused by either removing or not installing the roof panels.

The open portion was about ten percent of the roof.

A "Do Not Enter" sign was posted in front of the mobile home.

The area containing the mobile home and the greenhouse was enclosed or partially enclosed by a net wire fence.

A Pasco County deputy received a tip about possible drug manufacture on the property.

That deputy and Deputy Gell, a police officer for 14 years, went to look from the road nearby.

They could not see into the greenhouse.

Gell did not attempt to walk on the property outside of the fenced area to a point where he would be able to see through one of the two open sides of the greenhouse nor did he enter property adjoining the Riley tract to see what he could see from there.

Instead, he got a police pilot to fly him over the property in the police helicopter.

The helicopter circled the greenhouse twice at about 400 feet.

Gell, who had viewed cannabis some hundred times and some six times from the air, identified by naked eye viewing the tall marijuana plants through the roof openings and through the open sides.

He took two pictures of them with a camera.

The helicopter then left.