COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo.- A recent Colorado court ruling most certainly will impact how law enforcement builds future cases against suspects especially when it comes to surveilling.
A 15-year prison sentence of Colorado Springs man was overturned in late November after the state Appeals court ruled investigators violated the man's fourth amendment rights.
For three months in 2015, Colorado Springs police watched Rafael Tafoya's home believing he was running a drug operation. His attorney Robert Borquez says they patrolled him not with an officer, but a surveillance camera perched on top of a nearby utility pole that recorded everything 24/7.
"The camera could zoom in and out, it could pan the property and all of this could be done at the police headquarters without anyone getting up from their desk," Borquez says, "I mean this is big brother."
After surveying the home for three months police were able to obtain a warrant to search Tafoya's home where they found methamphetamine and cocaine that's what led to his original conviction in 2015. However, there was a big problem, the police didn't have a warrant to set up the surveillance camera.
Tafoya told the court the warrantless surveillance violated his right to privacy under the fourth amendment but he was convicted anyway. That's where Borquez comes in, helping get the case heard by the Colorado Court of Appeals. Arguing that Tafoya took precautions to keep his home private by having a six-foot-tall fence and a no trespassing sign on his property. "It was clear my client expressed an expectation of privacy," Borquez says.
The three Court of Appeal judges in the case agreed unanimously that it is illegal for the government to look over somebody's fence with a pole camera for a three month period of time violates the property owner's right to privacy. Even though the camera was on public property, without a warrant, the court says you still have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
But what does this mean for future cases? Borquez says the court didn't specify how long the police can surveil someone before it is deemed unconstitutional. But says this ruling could be used for other similar cases.
CSPD did give KRDO a statement in regard to the court overturning the conviction. They wrote,
"We are obviously incredibly supportive of the American judicial process. We as police conduct an investigation and make an arrest based upon probable cause, which is then tried in court, at which time a defendant may be found guilty. The defendant can then appeal that verdict and it may be overturned or affirmed by the Colorado Court of Appeals. That ruling may then be examined by the Colorado Supreme Court who may make a ruling agreeing or disagreeing with the Appeals Court's decision. This is all part of the protections in place as part of our judicial system, and we as an organization are committed to upholding this process."
As for Tafoya, he can be released on a special bond and now will wait for a new trial.