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Oregon Pot Farmer Busted by Google Earth

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on October 23, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An alleged Oregon pot farmer was busted after cops noticed a neat (g)row of plants on Google Earth -- and they weren't Douglas Firs.

Curtis W. Croft was legally allowed to grow up to 30 marijuana plants for medical purposes, but the cops found 94 plants when they raided his property.

You give 'em an inch and they want grow a mile.

But is it OK for an arrest to come not through a raid or a tip, but through satellite imagery provided by Google Earth?

Google Earth

For those who have been living under a rock (or like Croft, possibly just high), Google Earth is a type of virtual globe and map with geographic information. The program obtains images from satellites and aerial photography and displays them on a 3D globe.

The Rogue Area Drug Enforcement Team used Google Earth satellite images that led them to do a conventional flyover across the Costco of weed. They then got a search warrant and seized the 94 green bud plants from Croft's casa, reports Klamath Falls' KOBI-TV.

But was the Google "search" constitutional?

Searches Using Technology

The Fourth Amendment protects those on U.S. soil from illegal searches and seizures from government actors. How technological searches comport with this protection has been an issue for awhile.

It's somewhat legally ambiguous if and when publicly available Google Earth imagery constitutes a search, but Seattle's KPLU reports that it's been widely used in law enforcement efforts for some time now.

Given the public availability of Google Earth and frankly, the audaciously public display of Croft's funky foliage, the court would almost certainly reject a Google Earth-related unlawful search argument.

Maybe next time, Croft will borrow a page from Andrea "$3M Pot Mom" Sanderlin's highly sophisticated pot-growing playbook and keep his grow covered. Though that didn't end well, either.

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