The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In Hester v. United States,1 the Court held that the Fourth Amendment did not protect
open fields and that, therefore, police searches in such areas as pastures, wooded areas, open water, and vacant lots need not comply with the requirements of warrants and probable cause. The Court’s announcement in Katz v. United States2 that the Amendment protects
people not places cast some doubt on the vitality of the open fields principle, but all such doubts were cast away in Oliver v. United States.3 Invoking Hester’s reliance on the literal wording of the Fourth Amendment (open fields are not
effects) and distinguishing Katz, the Court ruled that the open fields exception applies to fields that are fenced and posted.
[A]n individual may not legitimately demand privacy for activities conducted out of doors in fields, except in the area immediately surrounding the home.4 Nor may an individual demand privacy for activities conducted within outbuildings and visible by trespassers peering into the buildings from just outside.5 Even within the curtilage and notwithstanding that the owner has gone to the extreme of erecting a 10-foot high fence in order to screen the area from ground-level view, there is no reasonable expectation of privacy from naked-eye inspection from fixed-wing aircraft flying in navigable airspace.6 Similarly, naked-eye inspection from helicopters flying even lower contravenes no reasonable expectation of privacy.7 And aerial photography of commercial facilities secured from ground-level public view is permissible, the Court finding such spaces more analogous to open fields than to the curtilage of a dwelling.8