Article I, section 7 of the Washington State Constitution provides individuals a privacy right that is greater than the protection provided by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. A search occurs under article I, section 7, when the government disturbs a citizen’s privacy interests that the citizen should be entitled to have safe from government interference without a warrant. Courts consider the nature and extent of the information the government may obtain through its conduct. An officer observing something through his or her own senses is not a search under this section, if the officer is in a location he or she is lawfully allowed to be. Officers may use tools that enhance their natural senses, such as binoculars or flashlights, but equipment that does more than enhance the senses may require a warrant. Law enforcement needs a warrant to use infrared thermal devices to observe heat patterns in a home or to track a private vehicle with a GPS device.
In a recent case, a defendant challenged his conviction of two counts of felony violation of a domestic violence no-contact order that involved video surveillance evidence. He had previously pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of violation of a domestic violence no-contact order under a previous order. According to the appeals court’s opinion, a detective initiated an investigation after an investigator with the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office encountered the defendant in the parking lot of his wife’s apartment building. The detective had surveillance cameras installed on a telephone pole. In the videos, she saw someone she believed to be the defendant walking toward the defendant’s wife’s apartment. The police then obtained a search warrant. When they executed the warrant, they found the defendant standing outside an open window. They also found his mail and clothes in the bedroom. He was arrested and charged with residential burglary and two counts of felony violation of a domestic violence order.
The defendant sought to suppress the video surveillance evidence, arguing the police violated his rights under both article I, section 7, and the Fourth Amendment. He also argued the police were not allowed to install the surveillance cameras on telephone poles. The trial court found the cameras were directed to public areas and the parking lot, not the defendant’s wife’s apartment. The court also found the defendant did not have standing to raise the telephone pole issue. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress the video evidence.