Supreme Court Rules on Warrantless GPS Tracking

by dave on January 23, 2012

in Criminal Justice

Today the Supreme Court handed down a much awaited ruling regarding the use of GPS tracking devices attached to automobiles. The ruling may disappoint some, who don’t hold civil liberties in high regards, but is cause for celebration for others. The High Court voted unanimously that cops do need a warrant when tracking a vehicle via GPS.

We first reported on this case back in July, when the Court made it known they would hear arguments in their current term. Back then, the Obama administration voiced support for warrantless GPS tracking in drug cases, saying such monitoring did not infringe upon a person’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

In the court opinion, penned by Justice Scalia, such monitoring was deemed a search and therefore covered by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. According to Scalia, “We hold that the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a “search.”

While the attorneys arguing the case for warrantless searches said there is no expectation of privacy for someone driving on public roadways, the Court said this was a nonissue and that the fact that the device was placed on personal private property made it a search and subject to applicable laws. The actual attachment of the GPS device was more of a search than the subsequent monitoring of the vehicle.

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects the people against unreasonable searches and seizures. It is this amendment that makes warrants a requirement and it is often this amendment that defense arguments are based on in criminal cases. When the police, or any government agent, infringes upon the constitutional rights of a person, the evidence seized and information gathered as a result of that infringement can be suppressed, or not allowed, in court.

In the case heard by the Supreme Court, a GPS device was attached on the vehicle of nightclub owner Antoine Jones. The device helped link Jones to a home that was used to stash money and drugs. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, with the information from the GPS playing an important role in his case. Now, however, that conviction is invalid.

How the evidence in a criminal case was obtained is very important in the integrity of the case. It can make or break things for the prosecution.

If you are facing criminal charges, we can put you in touch with a criminal defense attorney to analyze the evidence against you and help formulate a solid defense strategy.


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