Suspicious that marijuana was being grown in petitioner Kyllo's home in a triplex, agents used a thermal imaging device to scan the triplex to determine if the amount of heat emanating from it was consistent with the high-intensity lamps typically used for indoor marijuana growth. The scan showed that Kyllo's garage roof and a side wall were relatively hot compared to the rest of his home and substantially warmer than the neighboring units. Based in part on the thermal imaging, a Federal Magistrate Judge issued a warrant to search Kyllo's home, where the agents found marijuana growing. 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. The Ninth Circuit ultimately affirmed, upholding the thermal imaging on the ground that Kyllo had shown no subjective expectation of privacy because he had made no attempt to conceal the heat escaping from his home. Even if he had, ruled the court, there was no objectively reasonable expectation of privacy because the thermal imager did not expose any intimate details of Kyllo's life, only amorphous hot spots on his home's exterior.
John Paul Stevens
Sandra Day O'Connor
Anthony McLeod Kennedy
Kenneth Lerner, by appointment of the Court, 531 U.S. 955, argued the cause and filed briefs for petitioner. Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben argued the cause for the United States. With him on the brief were former Solicitor General Waxman, Assistant Attorney General Robinson, Irving L. Gornstein, and Deborah Watson. Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed for the Liberty Project by Julie M. Carpenter; and for the National Association of Criminal Defence Lawyers et al. James J. Tomkovicz, Lisa B. Kemler, and Steven R, Shapiro.