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Criminal Defense Lawyer Madison WI

Wisconsin Search and Seizure Laws – Warrantless Hidden Video Surveillance

Hidden Video Surveillance – special search and seizure laws in Wisconsin

Under both the United States Constitution and the Wisconsin Constitution, citizens have a right to protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. Generally, police cannot use evidence they obtain through illegal means. In the case of hidden surveillance cameras, though, your rights are a little more complicated. You will need to work with an experienced attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

The Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens’ “persons, houses, papers, and effects” against “unreasonable searches and seizures,” and requires probable cause before a warrant can be issued. For information collected by a hidden surveillance camera, this leaves questions open as to what constitutes personal “effects,” and whether viewing information collected by a camera legally constitutes an unreasonable search.

The Mendoza Case

In United States v. Mendoza, a federal court in Wisconsin held that surveillance cameras installed to observe marijuana plants on private property did not violate the Fourth Amendment, even though they were installed without a warrant. This relied on the Supreme Court’s “open fields doctrine,” which holds that an open field not immediately connected to a house is not part of someone’s effects, and is therefore not included in the Fourth Amendment protections.

This decision has some important limitations. If the field had been a fenced-in yard or otherwise adjacent to a house, surveillance cameras might not be allowed without a warrant. If you have personal items where a camera is on display, or if the camera aims inside the house or your vehicle, the Fourth Amendment protects you from a camera installed without a warrant.

Interpreting the Constitution requires working through difficult, arcane language that courts still argue about more than 200 years after it was first written. If you are arrested based on footage collected on a surveillance camera, you need experienced, expert legal representation. At Eisenberg Law Offices, we are here to help.