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In precedent-setting case, Long Lake Township couple wins drone appeal

An appellate court recently ruled that photos obtained by a drone without a search warrant, could not be used as evidence in a case between Long Lake Township and two residents.

Should your local government be able to fly a drone above your property to photograph it? Not without a search warrant. That’s what the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled recently in a case between Long Lake Township and two residents.

The appellate court’s 2-1 decision ruled that “persons have a reasonable expectation to privacy in their property against drone surveillance.”That reversed a circuit court ruling that said photos obtained from a drone without a search warrant could be used as evidence against the couple.

This case centers around a drone that flew over the property of Long Lake Township residents Todd and Heather Maxon. In 2008, the Maxons entered into an agreement with the township that they would not increase the amount of “junk” material on their property because of a zoning ordinance.

But in 2018 Long Lake Township filed a lawsuit alleging the Maxons had not kept their agreement and were in violation of an ordinance. The township presented evidence with photos obtained from a drone flying over the Maxon’s property. 

The couple’s attorney successfully argued that because those drone photos were taken without a search warrant, they should not be used as evidence in the dispute.

“This is really a precedent-setting case,” says independent journalist Eric VanDussen. “Because the court of appeals published this opinion, it has precedent that must be followed by all lower courts in Michigan.”

Dan Wanschura is the Host and Executive Producer of Points North.