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Law enforcement may soon fly drones without a warrant in active crime, crash scenes

Attorney O’Mara warns law could create a world of “Big Brother gone berserk”

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – This week the Florida house criminal justice subcommittee unanimously approved legislation by a vote of 12-0 that would allow law enforcement agencies to use drones on crime scenes, traffic accidents and crowd control without securing a warrant.

The notion of police drones without warrants sparked a push back from critics of similar legislation last year who saw the unmanned aerial devices as spies in the sky for police agencies, a potential violation of 4th amendment rights.

That legislation failed but changes to the language in both the house and senate this year may have calmed those concerns.

“It’s after something has happened to facilitate the collection of evidence”, State Rep. Clay Yarborough

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Co-sponsor of HB 1433, assured members of the sub-committee Tuesday before the final vote.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said the drones represent an instant aerial view that could help save lives.

The sheriff’s legislative team helped craft the new language for the proposed drone law.

“We’re just looking to keep people safe, Mina told News 6, “We’re not looking to violate the 4th amendment and violate search and seizure laws.”

Orlando criminal defense attorney Mark O’Mara said while the intention of the law makes sense, it could still open the door to future violations of a person’s right to privacy under the 4th amendment.

“Put up one-hundred of these drones and go start arresting people, O’Mara said, “You talk about Big Brother gone berserk, that is what is in our future if we’re not careful today.

Orange County Sheriffs Office
Orange County Sheriffs Office

O’Mara said the existing law already allows the use of drones in “special circumstances” including a lost child, or hostage situation.

“I’m ok with cops having the authority (to use drones) to protect citizens,” O’Mara said, “We should have safeguards in place, let’s take this one step at a time.”

A similar measure on the Senate side, Senate Bill 520, has been filed by state senator Joe Gruters (R) and is expected to have support in the senate.

Florida is currently among 18 states including Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin with legislation that requires law enforcement agencies to obtain a search warrant to use UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) for surveillance or to conduct a search.

Orange County Master Deputy Kevin Johnson told News 6 he would like to see all 6-of the Sheriff Office’s jurisdictions outfitted with drones if the bill passes.

“I can be in the air in less than 5-minutes, Johnson said.

Johnson said the economic story is compelling as well, with the hourly cost to fly a helicopter easily 10 times more than a drone.

  • Helicopter $725 an hour
  • Drone $65 an hour

If passed the law would go into effect July 1, 2020.

For more information on the proposed bills click or tap: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2020/1433/ByCategory or https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2020/520


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