Fourteen marijuana plants and seven years later, a New Mexico high court has overturned a lower court opinion and ruled that a police helicopter search operation in rural Taos County was illegal and unconstitutional.
The subject of that search, who said he had the 14 plants for personal use to smoke to alleviate physical ailments, was elated when contacted on Friday.
“It has been a lesson in the slow progress of the legal system … I’m happy that justice was served,” said Norman Davis, now 78.
Davis’ home was one of several checked out during a 2006 operation dubbed “Operation Yerba Buena” – a joint State Police, National Guard, and state Game and Fish effort that was targeting marijuana plantations in the sparsely populated Carson area…
Davis had his privacy jarred when, on a summer day as he was sitting on his sofa and feeling a bit out of sorts, he “heard this helicopter overhead.
“It was loud. Very loud,” Davis said at the time. “And I looked out the window and see these guys hovering over me.” The drug raid by the New Mexico State Police, using National Guard helicopters, involved six or seven officers armed with semiautomatic weapons and at least five police vehicles…
Davis said on Friday. “Back when this broke, it was a regular feature of the Taos district attorney. They did it every year, and they came out to Carson every year. We seemed to be their favorite spot.”
A spotter in one of the helicopters saw “vegetation” in Davis’ greenhouse and plants out back.
Davis was charged with possession of 8 ounces or more of marijuana, a fourth-degree felony, and possession of drug paraphernalia…
Davis reluctantly signed a waiver of consent for officers to search his property, including the greenhouse containing the plants, figuring he had little choice…Davis’ lawyers argued that the helicopter flyover violated federal and state constitutions, and that his consent to search the greenhouse was not given voluntarily.
Tuesday’s ruling by the Court of Appeals dealt with the random flyover by the helicopters that brought the long arm of the law to Davis’ bucolic home in the first place.
“The evidence suggesting that (the) defendant was growing marijuana in his greenhouse could not have been obtained without aerial surveillance unless the agents physically invaded the greenhouse,” said the 23-page opinion.” Consequently, the helicopter surveillance of defendant’s property constituted a search requiring probable cause and a warrant.”
The decision cites prior New Mexico cases in explaining how its ruling comes under the umbrella of protected privacy outlined in New Mexico’s constitution. Those privacy protections “are not limited to one’s interest in a quiet and dust-free environment,” the ruling said…“It also includes an interest in freedom from visual intrusion from targeted, warrantless police aerial surveillance, no matter how quietly or cleanly the intrusion is performed. Indeed, it is likely that ultra-quiet drones will soon be used commercially and possibly for domestic surveillance.”
Bravo! The New Mexico Court of Appeals – and our Constitution – strikes back against the rationales clutched to the bosom of our government and their favorite black helicopter agency, the NSA. Citizens have a right to privacy, a right to the presumption of innocence that requires coppers to have probable cause before a judge awards a search warrant that lets them invade our homes.
Or in Mr. Davis’ case, flying over his residence in a helicopter to peer down into his greenhouse. For all of the rest of us, that should include having a conversation online, on a telephone – landline or mobile – or even just Googling “War and Peace”.