United States v. Houston

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(3:13-cr-00009, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals)

Amicus Curiae Parties: ACLU-TN, ACLU, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Libertarian National Committee, & The Honorable Bob Barr

Prosecution: United States of America

Defendant: Rocky Houston

Technological advancements provide law enforcement with incredible surveillance capabilities. With these advancements, old assumptions of how the Constitution protects us from government intrusion have to be reevaluated.

In 2013, Rocky Joe Houston was arrested on his Roane County farm and charged with gun possession by a felon. The arrest came after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives mounted a surveillance camera on a public utility pole and pointed it at the defendant’s property, providing around the clock surveillance for ten weeks without a warrant. Not only could the camera maintain a constant watch on the defendant’s property, but it could zoom in and out as directed by law enforcement.

The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to suppress evidence gathered by the camera, setting a dangerous precedent authorizing nearly limitless government surveillance without a warrant or probable cause.

ACLU-TN joined with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project; the Brennan Center for Justice; the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and others to file an amicus brief urging the full 6th Circuit to review the panel’s decision en banc. We asked the court to overturn this dangerous precedent, arguing that the opinion in this case is inconsistent with Supreme Court decisions that caution against blindly extending rules designed for the physical world into the digital era. Unfortunately, the 6th Circuit denied the petition.

As technological advancements provide law enforcement with incredible surveillance capabilities, we must reevaluate assumptions about how the Constitution protects us from government intrusion. ACLU-TN will continue to fight for reasonable limits on government surveillance.

Related Documents

Legal Documents

United States v. Houston – Amicus Brief (February 29, 2016)