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Colorado Supreme Court finds CSPD officers violated constitutional privacy rights, reverses convictions against 2 men

DENVER, Colo. (KRDO) -- The Colorado Supreme Court ruled Monday that officers from the Colorado Springs Police Department violated the constitutional right to privacy for two suspects who both were convicted on drug charges.

In 2015, CSPD officers received information that a man named Rafael Tafoya was involved in illegal drug sales, so they installed a camera near the top of a utility pole near his home -- without obtaining a warrant.

They used this camera to keep an eye on Tafoya's fenced-in backyard for three months, it could be viewed live, but it also stored the footage for later review.

Based on that footage, officers were able to obtain a search warrant for his home, where they found illegal drugs. They found roughly 24 pounds of methamphetamine and around a pound of marijuana.

Both Tafoya, and another suspect involved, Gabriel Sanchez, were then convicted on drug charges. They were sentenced to 20 years each.

From there though, the case went to the Colorado Court of Appeals and ultimately, the Colorado Supreme Court -- which ruled that placing that camera without a warrant was a violation of constitutional rights.

"It's a good day for folks in Colorado who value their privacy," Tafoya's defense attorney, Robert Borquez, said. "I think it sends a message to law enforcement agencies, and that is that there are limits to what can be done as far as surveilling people. They drew the boundaries for what is acceptable with looking at the nature of the surveillance, the duration and the complete continuity of it."

Monday's ruling reversed the convictions for both men, who were released on appeal bonds when the case was going through the appellate court.

With reversed convictions, it's possible they will both go to trial again, but the Colorado Supreme Court wouldn't specify if the footage obtained by the pole camera, and subsequent evidence from a search warrant, will be used in another trial because of the "Good Faith" rule -- which essentially means if the judge believes the officers had a reasonable, good faith belief that they were acting according to legal authority, they would be able to use the evidence moving forward.

If the district court judge decides the footage can't be used when Sanchez and Tafoya are retried, the prosecution will have little to no evidence to use at trial, which could prevent a trial from happening at all.

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Sydnee Stelle

Sydnee is an MMJ for KRDO NewsChannel 13. You can learn more about her here.

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