Federal Appeals Court Allows Hidden Camera in Drug Case

Original Case Details

In the case of United States v Trice, the defendant Raheim Trice entered a conditional plea to one count of possession of methamphetamine with the intent to distribute under federal law. His plea was conditioned on his ability to appeal the warrant that was issued to search his apartment and uncover the illegal drugs seized. In Trice’s case, police set up a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector in a common area hallway in the apartment building where Trice lived. The camera had a motion sensor which was set to activate every time the door to Trice’s apartment opened. This camera recorded a number of videos showing Trice entering and exiting his apartment. This information was used to support an affidavit for a search warrant. Police were granted the search warrant based on this and other information. Police executed the warrant and found drugs and other paraphernalia this is common in the distribution of drugs. Trice contended that the use of the camera by the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights of search and seizure.

Court of Appeals Decision

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the police actions in setting up the camera and taking videos did not violate Trice’s Fourth Amendment rights. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees your right against any search or seizure by the government without a valid warrant or warrant exception. The Court decided that Trice’s Fourth Amendment rights were not violated for two main reasons:

1. Trice did not have any reasonable expectation of privacy in an unlocked common hallway of the apartment building that he lived in.
2. Police are allowed to use video to record what police could have seen from a publicly accessible location.

Most simply, the camera in this case captured nothing more than Trice entering and exiting his apartment. The videos the camera recorded did not provide any information that they could not have gathered through normal visual surveillance. The majority of the work in this case that resulted in a search warrant were three controlled drug buys using a confidential informant. When police entered Trice’s apartment on the search warrant, they seized 64 grams of methamphetamine, 43 grams of crack cocaine, 28 grams of powder cocaine, three grams of heroin, packaging materials, and a digital scale.

What Happens Next?

Trice’s case is essentially over as his only potential option here is a review by the United States Supreme Court. This would appear unlikely as the case would require the United States Supreme Court to grant certiorari to even hear the case in the first place. Certiorari is granted when the Supreme Court decides to hear a case and will call it because it raises a federal issue that needs to be decided. The main issue against Trice here is that the hallway in which the police set up their hidden camera was an unlocked common hallway. Because the hallway was unlocked, nobody in that apartment building had the reasonable expectation of privacy within the hallways. If the police had set up a camera inside a locked hallway that is meant to keep out non-residents or unapproved guests, then the Sixth Circuit decision may have been different. The information gained from the videos was also fairly minimal, as it only recorded Trice entering and exiting his apartment.

Any Further Questions?

If you or a loved one has been charged with a crime or being investigated for one, then it is important to speak to an experienced criminal defense attorney immediately. At Grabel & Associates, our attorneys have over 100 years of combined experience in successfully defending criminal cases all over the state of Michigan. This experience extends not only to adult cases, but also to juvenile charges. We are not a general practice firm. We are a team of criminal defense attorneys; it’s all we do. We offer a FREE consultation to anyone with questions relating to a possible or existing criminal charge against them or a loved one. Feel free to contact us on our 24/7 defense line at 1-800-342-7896. You can also contact us online or come visit us at one of our three statewide locations. We can also come to you.

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