What appears to be just another “DEA busting rural growers” story could eventually become a significant Supreme Court case that may limit the DEA's powers of surveillance over marijuana cultivation on private property.
The case began in May 2012 in Marinette County, Wisconsin, a river and forest dominated region tucked in the northeast end of the state. A fisherman was allegedly told by two other men to leave the property and became suspicious when he noticed trees cut down in the area. Local authorities discovered the property was owned by the Magana family.
A month later a logger allegedly stumbled upon a pot garden containing more than 30 plants, prompting the DEA to investigate. Without obtaining a warrant, the DEA brazenly entered the Magana property and installed video surveillance cameras, enabling them to film the suspects carrying marijuana. Only then did the DEA agents secure a warrant and arrest five members of the Magana family at separate locations near Green Bay.
In October 2012 a federal judge dismissed a motion to suppress the evidence, ruling that the DEA was legally permitted to install video cameras without a warrant because an “open field” is not protected by the Fourth Amendment's guarding against unreasonable searches. The Maganas then pleaded guilty as part of a plea deal – even though they face possible life sentences, they also retain their rights to appeal.
The latest development came last week when the Magana’s attorneys told the Drug War Chronicle they are prepared to take this case to the Supreme Court if necessary, based on the fact there were visible “No Trespassing” signs on the property, with which comes the expectation of privacy. Also crucial to the appeal will be the fact the DEA had the cameras running for three days before they bothered to get a warrant.
The first appeal with be filed with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and if the defendants should lose there, then to the highest court in the land. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the DEA, the implications for rural growers could be frightening; on the other hand, a victory for the Maganas could severely limit the DEA's ability to conduct surveillance with surreptitiously installed video cameras on private property, even if it is in an "open field.”