A public defender in Georgia is hoping to have his client’s case dismissed by a Georgia Superior Court after claiming that evidence against his client was illegally obtained. James Brundgie has been charged with the manufacture of marijuana, possession with intent to distribute, and possession of a controlled substance after a judge approved a warrant to search his property after thermal imaging detected a “hot spot” in his garage. If the search warrant is upheld it will be a worrying precedent to set as police forces and other agencies will be able to justify thermal imaging of entire neighborhoods in search of similar “hot spots”.
The public defender, Benjamin Pearlman, is rightly arguing that the warrant should never have been issued as Georgia law states that a warrant may not be issued “for anything other than physical, tangible evidence,” It is hard to see exactly how a thermal scan fits into the category of physical or tangible evidence.
As Pearlman stated in his filing:
Logically, search warrants are sought by officers to enable them to search for and seize evidence which would be brought to court and introduced in the course of proving the state’s case against a defendant…Heat or heat loss, standing alone, cannot be brought to court for a jury to examine.
Andrew Napolitano wrote last week that there is already a worrying amount of surveillance and evidence-mining going on with the most asinine of justifications. Current legislation allows government agencies to share the “evidence” collected by domestic surveillance with other government agencies so long as "the recipient is reasonably perceived to have a specific, lawful governmental function" It is worrying that the definition of “evidence” is being stretched as far as the English language will allow and that the means by which it is being gathered is permitted in the first place. As Napolitano pointed out, this is the first time since the Civil War that military personnel are being deployed within the United States to spy on citizens, and the use of similar technologies by police authorities is hardly any less worrying.
The unfortunate reality is that largely beneficial breakthroughs in technology have granted the government and police forces an arsenal of irresistible toys that make intrusion a lot easier and more disguised. Let’s hope that the Georgia Superior Court rules in favor of James Brundgie. Not only is it questionable whether thermal “hot spots” fit the criterion for evidence, but allowing the use of thermal scans is an intrusion too far that could soon become the norm.