Can police monitor your movement on public street with a GPS device without a Warrant? | Jones 2012

Mr. Jones was arrested on Oct. 24, 2005, for drug possession after police attached a tracker to Jones’s Jeep — without judicial approval — and used it to follow him for a month. Police actually had a warrant, but they did not execute it correctly.

The Government obtained a warrant authorizing the installation of an electronic tracking device on the Jeep registered to Jones’ wife to be installed in the District of Columbia and within 10 days. On the 11th day, and not in the District of Columbia but in Maryland, agents installed a GPS tracking — tracking device on the undercarriage of the Jeep while it was parked in a public parking lot. Over the next 28 days, the Government used the device to track the vehicle’s movements.

As a result of improper execution, the court proceeded as though there was no warrant at all.

The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures”. The Jeep is certainly an effect, as that term is used in the Amendment. The government argues that it is not even a “search under the 4th Amendment, so they never needed a warrant.

The Government contends that Justice Harlan’s standard shows that no search occurred here, since Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy (Katz test) in the area of the Jeep accessed by government agents, namely, the — the underbody and in the locations of the Jeep on the public roads which was visible to all. The Court stated, however, that Katz did not repudiate the understanding that the Fourth Amendment embodies a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas that it enumerates. The reasonable expectation of privacy test has been added to, not substituted for the common law trespassory test.

The government needs a warrant before they can install and track a person’s movement with a GPS device on a person’s car.

Justice Antonin Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.
Full opinion here:

Anton Vialtsin, Esq.
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