We are continuing our discussion of a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court recently. The defendant believes his privacy was violated when the police planted a GPS tracking device on his car and tracked his movements for two months. The investigation culminated with his arrest and subsequent indictment for drug crimes.
The police made a couple of mistakes when they placed the GPS device in the defendant’s car. The trial court allowed the data from the defendant’s public movements to be used as evidence against him; data gathered from his car while it was parked in his garage, however, was not to be used.
The first trial ended in a mistrial. The second trial ended in a conviction, thanks largely to the GPS data.
An appeal followed — a successful appeal. In its review of the case law on the Fourth Amendment and the 24-hour surveillance of the defendant, the court agreed with the defendant that there is an expectation of privacy. Generally,
A reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there…. (U.S. v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544, 560 (C.A.D.C., 2010)
The question remained, though: Was this search reasonable?
The government argued that it was, as a “reasonable application of the automobile exception” to the requirement of a warrant. The exception says that police may search a vehicle without a warrant if the car is “readily mobile and probable cause exists to believe it contains contraband.” In other words, the police can search a car without a warrant if they have solid reason to believe there’s something illegal in the car.
The court disagreed. The issue at hand was the planting of a tracking device, not a physical search of a suspect’s car.
To be continued.
Source: ABA Journal, “Keeping up with the Joneses — How far does the ‘Reasonable Expectation of Privacy’ go?” Erwin Chemerinsky, Nov. 1, 2011