I See You! is Gps Tracking a Fourth Amendment Violation? - Sparrow Law Firm

The U.S. Supreme Court has many criminal cases on the docket this term. The Court heard arguments on one of the most important, United States v. Jones, earlier this week. Criminal defense attorneys in Raleigh are watching the case because the decision in Jones will affect criminal investigations and anyone suspected of a crime anywhere in the country.

In the case, police suspected Jones of cocaine trafficking. During the investigation, officers or detectives followed the suspect, watched him at the nightclub he owned, installed a surveillance camera near the nightclub, tapped his cellphone and did all the typical stuff we have come to expect in the movies.

The police took one unusual step: They obtained a warrant to place a GPS tracking device on a car registered to the suspect’s wife but, apparently, used by the suspect as well. The warrant required that the device be installed only in the District of Columbia and within a 10-day period.

Eleven days passed before police installed the device, and they did so in Maryland, not D.C. Appellant and appellee agreed that this was a warrantless search.

Police monitored the GPS tracker for four weeks. The information gathered from the device and all the other aspects of the investigation were sufficient for another search warrant that did turn up drugs and cash. The suspect was indicted.

Defense counsel argued that the information gathered from the GPS device be thrown out. The trial court hedged a little: Any GPS data collected from the movement of the car on public roads could be used at trial. However, the GPS data gathered during the times the car was in the defendant’s garage at his house could not be used.

Remember, though, that the GPS surveillance was actually warrantless. And that’s where the fun begins for the appeals courts.

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