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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ind. Courts - There’s Nothing Sinister About Home Security Cameras

Commentary by Joel Schumm, professor at Indiana University's Robert H. McKinney School of Law

The Court of Appeals heard oral argument yesterday in Weddle v. State, which presents a challenge to police officers’ “protective sweep” of a house after entering and serving an arrest warrant on the homeowner. Part of the justification for the protective sweep of several rooms of the home was information that Weddle was manufacturing methamphetamine and the officers’ observation of a security camera outside the house.

The State’s emphasis on the security (or, “surveillance,” in the State’s parlance) cameras was not well-received by Judge Baker and Judge May—both of whom made clear they have security cameras.

First, a bit of foreshadowing from the Appellant’s argument:

Judge Bradford: Cameras tell you we want to know if someone’s coming . . . .

Appellant’s Counsel: There are other, logical reasons for a camera.

Judge Baker: I actually have one at my house. Because if the bad guys come, I can know they’re the bad guys and not my friends. If Judge Bradford comes by to have an adult beverage, right?

(8:20-8:40)

Within a few seconds of beginning his argument, the Deputy Attorney General steps right in it — and doesn’t take the cue to jump out quickly.

The State: . . . As they approached the front door, they see surveillance cameras which the police officer testified heightened the danger because people inside could know who they were and where they were at, and how many of them. They knocked on the front door--

Judge Baker: One of the things we have to come with grips with America today, unfortunately, this is not Ozzie and Harriet anymore. . . . It’s almost unreasonable not to have a security system in your house today, isn’t it?
The State: Certainly, your honor. The State is not claiming—

Judge Baker: . . . I had lunch with one of my friends who is very well known in the judicial field and unfortunately there’s been a lot of burglaries in his neighborhood. So he’s gotten beefed-up security and all these other things. He may well have to get cameras.

The State: Absolutely, your honor.

Judge Baker: So cameras cannot be a cause for cops to say I’m going to kick the door in.

The State: The State agrees they cannot be the only factor, but that does not mean they are not a factor.

Judge May: Ok, at what point does it become a factor? Ok, you’re saying they saw the surveillance cameras, they thought they were possibly being watched. Does that in and of itself give them the right to do a protective sweep of the house?

The State: No, your honor.

Judge May: Because if there is, I’ve got a camera on my house.

The State: No, the State is not making that claim. The State is just giving you the overall totality of the circumstances. The officers then knock on the door, loudly and several times. No one answers.

Judge Baker: Give up the cameras. Just give it up.

The State: The camera is not the main factor.

Judge Baker: Good.

The State: The main factor is the movement and the answer. I’m just setting the stage.

(20:39-22:16)

Finally, after the argument briefly turns to another topic, Judge Baker later adds, “It’s not against the law, in fact it is probably advisable to have cameras. You’re going to concede that whether you want to or not.” Counsel responds, “Absolutely.” (22:46-22:56)

I was particularly surprised by the following sentence from the State’s brief:

The officers had information that Weddle and/or Hall were involved in the manufacturing and dealing of methamphetamine, which explained the surveillance cameras (Tr. 53, 97, 110, 557). See U.S. v. Buchanan, 910 F.2d 1571 (7th Cir. 1990) (“guns are tools of the drug-dealing trade”) (citing United States v. Alvarez, 860 F.2d 801, 829, 830 (7th Cir. 1988).
As the owner of home security cameras, I share the concerns of Judge Baker and Judge May about drawing inferences of criminal activity inside a house from the presence of security cameras outside the house. The vast majority of those of us with home security cameras don’t have a meth lab or other criminal enterprise in our homes.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 23, 2013 11:50 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts | Schumm - Commentary