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Government Tracking Of Your Vehicle: Supreme Court Said You Need A Warrant


Top Appeals lawyer GPS device requires warrant

U.S v. Jones

132 S.Ct 945

United States Supreme Court

Decided on: January 23, 2012

Defendant’s vehicle’s movement constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment requiring a warrant.

Summary: Defendant Antoine Jones was under investigation by the FBI. The Government applied to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a warrant authorizing the use of an electronic tracking device on the jeep of Jones’s wife. A warrant was issued authorizing installation of the device within 10 days, but agents installed the device on the 11th day. The Government obtained a multiple-count indictment against Defendant with conspiracy to distribute and posses with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and 50 grams of cocaine base in violation of 21. U.S.C.§§ 841 and 846. Before trial, Jones filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained through the GPS device.

The court granted the motion only in part and jury was hung on the conspiracy count. The grand jury returned another indictment, charging Jones with the conspirator’s stash house that contained $850,000 in cash, 97 kilograms of cocaine, and 1 kilogram of cocaine base. The jury found him guilty. The Court Of Appeals reversed the conviction because of admission of evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. The U.S Supreme Court granted certiorari. The U.S Supreme Court found that it is beyond dispute that a vehicle is an “effect” under the Fourth Amendment to protect the right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the government’s installation of a GPA device on a Defendant’s vehicle, and the use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search requiring a warrant and therefor the evidence should be excluded.

Issue: Whether the attachment of a GPS tracking device on Defendant’s car, and use of that device to monitor vehicle’s movements on public streets, constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment requiring a warrant.

Holding: Yes, The U.S Supreme Court held that the attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor Defendant’s vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment requiring a warrant.

Facts: Defendant Antoine Jones was under investigation by the FBI.. In 2005, the government applied to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for a warrant authorizing the use of an electronic tracking device on the jeep of Jones’s wife. A warrant was issued authorizing installation of the device within 10 days, but agents installed the device on the 11th day. The government used the device to track the Defendant’s vehicle’s movements for 28 days. The Government obtained a multiple-count indictment against Defendant with conspiracy to distribute and posses with intent to distribute five kilograms of cocaine and 50 grams of cocaine base in violation of 21. U.S.C.§§ 841 and 846. Before trial, Jones filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained through the GPS device.

The trial court granted the motion only in part because a person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another.  The trial produced a hung jury on the conspiracy count. The grand jury returned another indictment, charging Jones with the conspirator’s stash house that contained $850,000 in cash, 97 kilograms of cocaine, and 1 kilogram of cocaine base. The jury found him guilty. The Court Of Appeals reversed the conviction because of admission of evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. The U.S Supreme Court granted certiorari. The U.S Supreme Court found that it is beyond dispute that a vehicle is an “effect” under the Fourth Amendment to protect the right of the people to be secure in their persons, house, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The U.S. Supreme Court held that the government’s installation of a GPA device on a Defendant’s vehicle, and the use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search requiring a warrant.

Legal Analysis:  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 Government’s physical intrusion on an “effect” for the purpose of obtaining information constitutes a search. In Katz v. United States 389 U.S 347,88 S.Ct. 507, 19, L.Ed.2d.575, held, that the Fourth Amendment protects a persons ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’.  In New York v. Class, 475 U.S. 106, 106 S.C.t. 960, 89 L.Ed.2d. 81 1986, held ‘ the exterior of a car, is thrust into the public eye and thus to examine it does not constitute a ‘search’. The officers in this case did more than conduct a visual search of Defendant’s vehicle. By attaching the GPS device to Defendant’s car, monitoring his movements, encroached on a protected area and constituted a search under the Fourth Amendment that requires a valid warrant.

 


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