Santa Ana Police Had No Right to Expect Privacy During a Pot Shop Raid: Court of Appeal

A still frame of security footage of the 2015 raid on Sky High Holistic.

California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled that police officers raiding an unlicensed marijuana dispensary suffered no injury to their privacy rights when a closed circuit video camera recorded their actions, because although they believed they had disabled all such cameras, it was unreasonable of them to conclude they were not being recorded.

The Court’s summary in Santa Ana Police Officers Association v. City of Santa Ana:

Two City of Santa Ana Police officers were the subjects of an internal affairs investigation based on their conduct during the execution of a search warrant at a marijuana dispensary. The Santa Ana Police Department initiated the investigation after video recordings of the officers were released to the media. The video recordings were made by the dispensary owners without the knowledge of the officers, who had removed all known recording devices before executing the warrant. Plaintiffs Santa Ana Police Officers Association (SAPOA) and the officers (collectively, Plaintiffs) brought this lawsuit against the City of Santa Ana, the Santa Ana Police Department, and the Santa Ana Chief of Police (collectively, Defendants) and asserted (that) (d)efendants violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act by using the video recordings made at the marijuana dispensary as the basis for, and as evidence in, the internal affairs investigation . . . The Court of Appeals concluded the Complaint did not, and could not, state a violation of the California Invasion of Privacy Act because the officers had no reasonable expectation as a matter of law that their communications during the raid of the marijuana dispensary were not being overheard, watched, or recorded.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported officers ate marijuana. Voice of OC regrets the error.

Here is the video at the center of the case:

Terry Francke is Voice of OC’s Open Government & Public Records Consultant and general counsel to Californians Aware.