Matt Rosendale and The Truth About Shooting Drones

by Tim Baldwin, Liberty Defense League

TimBaldwinA200Matt Rosendale (R), candidate for United States House of Representatives, quickly created a public image as a Tea Party conservative when he broadcasted a commercial where he shoots down a “government drone.”

Looking at Rosendale’s state legislative record, however, evidence reveals that Rosendale really does not believe in “shooting drones” through legislation and did nothing to limit the use of drones in criminal prosecutions in Montana.

In 2013, Rosendale sponsored Senate Bill 196 (which was passed and signed into law), and it supposedly qualifies the government’s use of drones in criminal cases. SB 196 simply states as follows:

(1) In any prosecution or proceeding within the state of Montana, information from an unmanned aerial vehicle is not admissible as evidence unless the information was obtained:

(a) pursuant to the authority of a search warrant; or

(b) in accordance with judicially recognized exceptions to the warrant requirement.

(2) Information obtained from the operation of an unmanned aerial vehicle may not be used in an affidavit of probable cause in an effort to obtain a search warrant unless the information was obtained under the circumstances described in subsection (1)(a) or (1)(b) or was obtained through the monitoring of public lands or international borders.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “unmanned aerial vehicle” means an aircraft that is operated without direct human intervention from on or within the aircraft. The term does not include satellites.

To recap, Rosendale proposed that evidence obtained by use of drones—which, by the way, specifically excludes satellites (why?)—be admissible only where the government obtains a warrant, can prove an exception to the warrant requirement exists, or the evidence was obtained while the drone was patrolling public lands or international borders.

So, how did SB 196 limit the use of drones any more than what the law already does? It didn’t, and here is why.

Search and seizure law is one of the most highly litigated issues in criminal law. As a criminal defense attorney, I have much personal experience in this regard. I venture to say that of all of the defense motions I file in criminal cases, ninety-percent of them involve search and seizure issues.

(As a side note, Montanans should be interested to know that some County Attorneys in Montana try to prevent defense attorneys from filing motions of law to defend their clients’ constitutional rights. They will, for example, revoke plea offers if the defense attorney files any defense motions—even before the County Attorney has provided the mandatory discovery required by law. They do this to discourage citizens to pursue their constitutional rights and question the strength of the government’s case. Perhaps politicians should be more concerned about real problems like this instead of appealing to the hype of “shooting drones”.)

In this large body of search-and-seizure jurisprudence, the Montana Supreme Court has ruled that no evidence (regardless of how seized) is admissible in criminal actions unless the government first obtains a warrant or can prove that an exception to the warrant requirement exists. I have written on the numerous warrant exceptions before.

So in reality and effect, Rosendale did nothing to change what the Montana Supreme Court has already done in applying Article II, Section 11 of the Montana Constitution and the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution. Simply put, SB 196 is a restatement of what the law already is—law exposited by the allegedly horrible Montana Supreme Court, as some conservatives claim. What’s more, SB 196 was signed by Governor Bullock (D)—how “drone shooting” can the law really be?

Rosendale’s drone bill is a far, far cry from shooting government drones, but he has portrayed to Montana that he will “shoot government drones,” metaphorically speaking, in Washington DC. This begs the question: if Matt Rosendale doesn’t introduce “drone-killing” bills in Montana—where “drone shooting” is popular—how in the name of common sense can Montanans expect Rosendale to “shoot drones” in Washington DC? This leads me to believe that people who are supporting Rosendale for this non-establishment-type rhetoric are being duped.

The contest in this primary race has focused on whether moderates, libertarians and those in between should vote for Corey Stapleton or Matt Rosendale to prevent the most liberal Republican candidate, Ryan Zinke, from getting elected. With only a few weeks away from primary election day, the evidence now shows that Rosendale is using campaign tricks to simply siphon votes from Stapleton who is the natural and more-likely-to-win alternative to Ryan Zinke.

In addition to the evidence recently highlighted by Dr. Ed Berry’s articles, “Matt Rosendale or Corey Stapleton” and “Will the Real Matt Rosendale Please Stand Up”, it appears that Rosendale—though “conservative leaning” as described by the Montana Conservative Alliance—is not the best choice for this primary election.

I believe Corey Stapleton is the best choice for the Republican primary, and I support him as such.

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