SAN FRANCISCO — Police searching for marijuana do not violate privacy rights when they spy the plants while circling in a plane from public airspace above covered greenhouses, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.
The decision allows prosecutors to reinstate a three-count indictment against six Yuba County residents in a 1982 case.
The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal prosecutors should be allowed to use 553 marijuana plants seized as evidence in the trial.
The decision overturns a lower court ruling that the plants were seized as a result of an illegal search when police circled a covered greenhouse to spot the plants.
"It is apparent that the police saw, from public navigable airspace, what anyone else could have seen from that position: outlines, shadows and colors of vegetation which resembled marijuana," wrote Judge Thomas Tang for the three-member court.
The six defendants argued that they had a right to expect the interior of the greenhouse was private and that the circling of a police plane amounted to an illegal search without a warrant.
The case was unusual because the marijuana was spotted inside a covered building.
A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in May held that police do not need warrants in using aircraft to search for marijuana in residential yards.
However, California's Supreme Court ruled a year ago that aerial searches of backyards were illegal.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Douglas Hendericks said the government would begin efforts to try W. N. Daniel Broadhurst, Gregory Dorlan, Joseph A. Broadhurst, Steven S. Townsend Jr., Deborah Dorland and Beverly E. Broadhurst on the three-count indictment.