He pleaded guilty to a count of possession of marijuana, reserving his right to appeal, and was put on a year’s unsupervised probation. Although the punishment was light, a principle was involved and he tenaciously fought his conviction. The Court of Appeals considered his case three times and the Supreme Court twice. The judges agreed on the key point, that Davis’ conviction had to be reversed, though they disagreed about why. Finally, in 2015 they settled on the rule that low-altitude aerial surveillance by police is unconstitutional unless authorized by a judge.
I was reminded of the case when I heard about the fleets of drones sighted over northeastern Colorado and southwestern Nebraska in recent weeks. According to CNN and The New York Times, the drones are large (“wingspans of up to 6 feet”) and fly in formations of as many as 30 aircraft. They fly after dark, which suggests some purpose other than mapping.
I assume there’s a mundane explanation, which may have come out by the time this column appears. In the meantime, everyone agrees there’s nothing unlawful about a private company sending drones to hover over people’s homes. Highly intrusive surveillance that would be unconstitutional if done by our government is legally hunky-dory when done by any random private company.