In: Criminal Defense

Are Photos Taken with Drones Admissible in Court?

Drones are used both as a hobby and in a professional capacity to take aerial photos and videos. However, they raise serious issues in regards to privacy rights. Complex laws dictate drone operation and how any images obtained can be used. Among these concern the use of drone photos in criminal cases. Our Denton criminal defense attorney explains some of the factors involved in determining whether they are admissible in Denton County criminal cases.

The Controversy Surrounding Drone Use in Texas

Drones were originally invented by the military. They acted as decoys, were used in reconnaissance efforts, and had the ability to drop items ranging from bombs to supplies for the troops. Over the years, drones have become more of a consumer commodity. In addition to hobbyists, photographers, surveyors, and journalists are among the many people who use drones as part of their jobs. They are also used by law enforcement officials in aiding victims, surveilling suspects, and apprehending criminal offenders.

Under the Texas Code, complex laws regarding the use of drones and any images obtained have created controversy over the years. In effect, these laws are designed to protect individual privacy, but journalists often insist they fringe upon their First Amendment rights. 

As it applies to criminal court cases, the law makes it illegal for citizens to conduct drone surveillance and prevents footage they obtain from being used in court. For example, if a private citizen captures illegal activity on someone’s private property, the footage is inadmissible and could result in charges against the drone user.

There are exceptions to these rules, particularly when it comes to law enforcement officials. Provided drone footage was obtained under certain circumstances, it may be introduced as evidence in a criminal case.

When Drone Footage Can be Used in Criminal Court Proceedings

Drone laws in the U.S. vary from state to state. Some severely restrict drone footage from being used as evidence in criminal court cases, where others allow it under strict guidelines. In Texas, law enforcement officers may take drone photos on private property without the owner’s permission if they are executing a valid search warrant or are in pursuit of a suspect and have reasonable suspicion they have committed a crime. In these situations, drone footage may be admissible as evidence in Denton County criminal court cases. Other situations in which police are authorized to obtain drone footage include:

  • When investigating motor vehicle or other types of accidents;
  • When investigating reported fatalities;
  • In criminal standoffs;
  • When searching for a missing person;
  • If there is a chemical spill or other issue that impacts public safety.

Speak with Our Denton County Criminal Defense Attorney Today

At the Law Office of Brent D. Bowen, PLLC., we protect your rights in Denton County criminal court proceedings and can determine whether certain types of evidence against you is admissible in your case. To speak with our Frisco criminal defense attorney, call or contact our Denton office online and request a case consultation today.