|dc.description.abstract||2023 Supreme Court Competition Problem:
Sam Craft lives in a small home on Birch Street in Eldora, Iowa. Craft owns the home and is its sole occupant. The back yard is surrounded by a fence. The front yard is unfenced. There are four other houses on Birch Street, which is a short dead-end side street. Birch Street connects onto Main Street, between a grocery store and a small church.
In early 2020, DCI Special Agent Trails suspected that there was some activity related to fentanyl trafficking at Craft’s residence. She obtained permission from the city to install a small digital video camera on a telephone pole just across the street from Craft’s residence.
Throughout 2021, the camera was active and pointed at the front of Craft’s house. Agent Trails monitored the feed. She could also review footage, after the fact. She was able to zoom in to get enough detail to see license plate numbers or facial expressions. But most of the time, the camera was zoomed out to capture a wider shot of the exterior of Craft’s home. No part of the interior of Craft’s home is visible in any of the footage that Agent Trails used.
In March 2022, Special Agent Trails applied for a warrant to search Craft’s home. In her search warrant application, she relied on that video footage to establish a pattern of what looked like mid-level drug distribution activity: regular visits by known users and low-level dealers, and bi-weekly visits from a subject with no other known connection to Eldora, who drove a different rental vehicle on each visit to Craft’s residence.
A magistrate found probable cause to issue the search warrant. Agents found a large quantity of fentanyl in his home, and evidence that would help prove an ongoing intent to distribute it (including drug ledgers, scales, and packaging supplies). Craft was charged with possession of fentanyl with intent to deliver.
Craft moved to suppress all the evidence discovered during the search of his home. He argued that the search warrant was issued based on evidence that was obtained through a warrantless search that violated Craft’s rights under the Fourth Amendment.
The State argued that warrantless visual surveillance of the area surrounding a home does not constitute a search. The State argued that any subjective expectation of privacy in activities that occur in public view—just outside of Craft’s residence—would never be objectively reasonable. And if there’s no expectation of privacy, the State is free to view and record that activity.
The District Court granted Craft’s Motion to Suppress. It acknowledged that the unfenced front yard of Craft’s home was open to public view. But it held that surreptitious, continuous surveillance of the front of a private home for an entire year is unreasonably invasive and violates a reasonable expectation of privacy—even if widespread availability of new technology makes it easy to do. So it ruled that using the pole camera was a search that violated the Fourth Amendment, and it suppressed all of the evidence found through the search warrant.
The State appealed, and the Iowa Supreme Court retained the appeal. The State must convince the Justices that the district court was incorrect, and using this pole camera was not a search. Craft must convince the Justices that the district court got it right, and that this as a search. This is a novel, complex, and difficult issue—but our intrepid finalists are up to the task!||en_US