US Supreme Court
Unwarranted GPS Trackers Violate Rights
February 5, 2012
By: Jason Gower
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that the use of unwarranted GPS trackers in police investigations is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. "I couldn't agree more with the Court." said local Bay City Attorney Jason Gower.
The case in question was "United States v. Jones." Antoine Jones was accused of drug dealing, and investigators placed a GPS tracking device on his vehicle with an invalid warrant, according to the New York Times. He was initially found guilty, but the verdict was overturned by the United States Circuit Court because of the potential Fourth Amendment violation. The United State Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, said that as conceived in the 18th century, the Fourth Amendment's protection of "persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" would extend to private property such as an automobile.
"The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a 'search' within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted," Justice Scalia wrote. Emphasizing the Fourth Amendment's "close connection to property," Justice Scalia wrote that even a small trespass, if committed in "an attempt to find something or to obtain information," constituted a "search" under the Fourth Amendment.
The Supreme Court's decision stems from a narcotics operation that turned up nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine and $1 million when authorities raided a house in suburban Fort Washington, Md., in 2005. District of Columbia police and FBI agents watched Mr. Jones, a nightclub owner, for months with an array of surveillance techniques, including tapping his cellphone under a warrant from a federal judge. The appeals court in Washington voided Mr. Jones's conviction, because police followed his movements for four weeks by putting a GPS tracker on his Jeep Grand Cherokee without a valid warrant. Police had a warrant for the District of Columbia, but it had expired before the GPS device was installed in Maryland.
In an effort to preserve Mr. Jones's conviction, the government argued that no warrant was needed in the first place. "The United States Supreme Court has said quite clearly warrants are needed for these types of searches, end of story." Said Gower.
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