United States V. Christopher Lee Armstrong

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Category:Common Law
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Christopher Lee Armstrong including some others were indicted for “ conspiring to possess with intent to distribute more than 50 grams of cocaine base ( crack ) and conspiring to distribute the same”. They were monitored by The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms before they got the indictment and the arrest. Armstrong filed a motion to discovery on the basis of that he was racially profiled because he was black. That made the government to provide information on similar cases from the past three years.

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It held that the requirements for a selective-prosecution claim does not require a defendant to show that the government failed to prosecute others who have the same similarities.

Prior Proceedings:

Armstrong filed for a motion to discovery while the case was in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California for the reason that the government wouldn’t give the information that Armstrong needed to help his case. The information being a “study” that looked into cases with th eracs of the defendant. The district court complied and made the government give the information that was needed based on that it was valid evidence. The case then went to the court of appeals.

Issues Presented / Questions of Law:

During this case, Armstrong made the claim that he, and other individuals, were targeted specifically on their race. He made the case that otter people of different races, weren’t targeted as often for similar crime. So the question presented is: “Must criminal defendants who claim that they were victims of selective-prosecution have information about people of different races not being prosecuted for the same crime?”

Rule or Holding of Law:

The final ruling was 8-1, ruling against Armstrong. The ruling was announced by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The ruling was that in order for there to be a valid selective-prosecution claim to be made, there must be a significant amount of evidence that the government is committing selective-prosecution.


The information that was provided by Armstrong during the case did not give enough evidence of selective-prosecution. The study provided failed to prove a correlation between prosecution and race. A newspaper article was also provided as evidence for the defendant was found not relevant enough to be used as a significant piece of evidence. There was also personal correspondence between respondent and a drug treatment center employee which was dismissed under hearsay while reporting conclusions based on anecdotal evidence.

Rationale / Analysis:

This case was shown to make the debate of whether or not there is active racial profiling within the government. This case was proven to be in favor of the US government, suggesting that there is no active profiling based on statistics provided within the court. Its significance with other cases that had heavily to do with either race or discriminatory targeting is made very apparent. Famous cases that involve racial profiling are Tennessee v. Garner, Graham v. Connor, Terry v. Ohio, Weeks v. U.S., and Carroll v. United States. One specific public outcry that heavily relates to U.S. v. Armstrong is the stop and frisk where the public were making the claim that police were specifically targeting minorities for stop and frisk, while white people weren’t getting stopped and frisked as much. While the court did not find stop and frisk to be unreasonable under the fourth amendment, it is still up for debate if the notion of stop and frisk to be racial profiling.

The decision to close the case in the U.S. favor based on the insignificant amount of proof of the government specifically targeting black people for possession or even certain crimes is very evident on the need for significant statistics. The stats provided in the court was not sufficient enough to garner the conclusion that there is racial profiling being done in order to make arrests. The decision was 8 to 1, seeing how there is a strong majority in the vote, it says that the judges care more about a substantial amount of significant evidence. The decision’s impact created the notion that such racial profiling did not exist within the U.S. court of law.

The “rightness” of this decision is one that is up for debate. Like how can one prove that there is racial profiling that is being done within the police force? Or if there is no racial profiling. The thing with racism and discrimination is that it is not quantitative, it is more qualitative if anything. The stats could not provide whether or not the indictment was based on the color of their skin, and for lack of probable cause. Although, these can be argued, the evidence of racial profiling was not there mainly because there was no evidence to provide.


There was suspicion that Danny Kyllo was growing marijuana in his home from a Department of the Interior agent. This suspicion prompted the agent to utilize a thermal imaging device to scan Kyllo’s property in order to investigate the use of high intensity lamps commonly used in indoor marijuana growth projects. This investigation gave probable cause that Kyllo was growing marijuana in his home given the readings revealed relatively hot areas compared to the rest of the home. Based on other evidence against Kyllo along with the thermal device readings, the federal magistrate judge issued a warrant to search Kyllo’s home. The search concluded with the finding of marijuana. The problem is that Kyllo’s party claims that the use of the thermal imager is still a “search” based on the grounds that it was used to search for aspects of him home that would not be seen without the use of entry. Since this search was conducted without a warrant, thus claiming it to be illegal.

Prior Proceedings:

“Through the wall surveillance” was a term that was thrown around a lot during the case. This means that any surveillance that gives the person surveying a clear cut distinction of what is inside the property that is being surveyed. The court made a rule that was used when dealing with the public being able to make direct observations of the inside of private property. Something like using a window to peer inside of one’s home isn’t in violation of “reasonable expectation of privacy” because it is assumed that everyone on the outside can see what is happening on the inside through a window. Utilizing a wiretap without a warrant is in violation of this because conversations made within a home are assumed to be private are now in the knowledge of people uninvolved in the conversation.

Issues Presented / Questions of Law:

The issue presented is that there was an “external search” done on Kyllo’s private property. The search conducted found evidence against Kyllo, evidence that would’ve been found if they had physically searched inside his property. The thermal imaging reading was made before a warrant was issued to allow the search of Kyllo’s property, thus making the case of it being illegal. The question being presented: “Can the use of certain technology be used to search another’s private property without the need for a warrant if and only if the search doesn’t involve physical entry to the property?”

Holding or Rule of Law:

The case ended with a 5 to 4 opinion ruling in favor of Kylprilo. The opinion was delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia with the statement, “…[w]here, as here, the Government uses a device that is not in general public use, to explore details of the home that would previously have been unknowable without physical intrusion, the surveillance is a ‘search’ and is presumptively unreasonable without a warrant.”. However, there was counter argument presented by Justice Paul Stevens arguing, “…observations were made with a fairly primitive thermal imager that gathered data exposed on the outside of [Kyllo’s] home but did not invade any constitutionally protected interest in privacy…,”. Both were good points, but the court ruled in favor of Kyllo in the end stating that the surveillance done to his home was unconstitutional without the use of a warrant. Any search done without a warrant that involves the observation of property that is not accessible to the general public is deemed unconstitutional and illegal.


The case involved surveillance from the outside to obtain information that would be private without a warrant being issued. The argument of “through the wall surveillance” was made in the court under the assumption that the thermal imager could perform “through the wall surveillance”. Since the thermal waves emitted from private property was then brought out to the public by simple physics, then anyone can make the observations. The problem is that the defendant’s property was being observed with the purpose of finding criminal activity. Audio was also being recorded from inside the property. Audio that could.t be discerned by passer-byers. People within the property were with the knowledge that the contents within the property, tangible and all, were private. The assumption of any common person not caring that there was light emitting from the property was made as well, with the argument that people only looking for criminal activity, such as police, will look in suspicion. So the search was deemed illegal.

Rationale / Analysis:

This case truly tested the definition of what a search is. The search of private property was proven to be possible with the use of certain surveillance tools. With many different sides of the argument within the court hearing, the very close ruling came in favor for Kyllo. The relationship with other cases can be brought to any case involving the unlawful search of anyone’s property. However, this case has such a unique case. Cases involving unlawful monitoring of activity that breaches the “reasonable expectation of privacy” clause in the Constitution like wiretapping without a warrant is related to this.

The motion to decide the verdict was one full of debate on what is deemed private or information that could easily be determined to the public. One that took a lot of time and caused a very close vote. The members of the court, specifically Scalia were keen on protecting what it means to have privacy in their own definition of it. Scalia wanted to assure that any likeliness of another person’s property cannot be interpreted by outside sources. Things like “through the wall surveillance” was used a lot during this hearing.

The “rightness” of the decision could still be debated to this day. It is true that one has the right to privacy within their own property, but can one define privacy? The very definition could be made to “any form of information that one does not want the public to know about”. When that definition is put in the court of law, it could be interpreted differently.

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United States v. Christopher Lee Armstrong. (2021, Mar 01). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/united-states-v-christopher-lee-armstrong/