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Drones are permitted for zoning enforcement

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Images gathered by an aerial drone of private property can be used to enforce zoning regulations.

That’s according to a split decision this week from the Michigan Court of Appeals, regarding a case near Traverse City.

Long Lake Township used a drone to take a look at property owned by Todd and Heather Maxon. They had run afoul of local officials for having junk cars on their five acre property, prompting complaints from neighbors.

The Maxons argued that the drone constituted an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment, and that the photos should be suppressed. The case made its way to the state Supreme Court, before ending up back in front of a three judge panel with the Court of Appeals.

In a 2 to 1 decision, they sided with the township. Assuming the search violated the Fourth Amendment, the majority wrote that the legal rule excluding evidence in such searches only applies to criminal matters, because its purpose is to deter police misconduct. It does not apply in civil cases.