A Department of the Interior agent, suspicious that Danny Kyllo was growing marijuana, used a thermal-imaging device to scan his triplex. The imaging was to be used to determine if the amount of heat emanating from the home was consistent with the high-intensity lamps typically used for indoor marijuana growth. Subsequently, the imaging revealed that relatively hot areas existed, compared to the rest of the home. Based on informants, utility bills, and the thermal imaging, a federal magistrate judge issued a warrant to search Kyllo’s home. The search unveiled growing marijuana. 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. Ultimately affirming, the Court of Appeals held that Kyllo had shown no subjective expectation of privacy because he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home, 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.”
A Fourth Amendment search does not occur, even when the explicitly protected location of a house is concerned, unless the individual manifested a subjective expectation of privacy in the object of the challenged search and society is willing to recognize that expectation as reasonable.
Brief Fact Summary:
The police obtained evidence of a marijuana growing operation inside the defendant, Kyllo’s (the “defendant”) home, by using a thermal imaging device from outside the home. The police used the device to gather evidence to support issuance of a search warrant for the home.