Police GPS Tracking Device Constitutes Search Says U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late January that police attachments of GPS-tracking devices to automobiles are considered searches under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution in the case of United States v. Jones.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by law enforcement. Law enforcement cannot enter someone’s home and begin searching for illegal contraband without obtaining a warrant from a judge or unless there is an exception to the warrant requirement. There are six key exceptions to the warrant requirement

1. Search Incident to Lawful Arrest – if the police have probable cause (meaning it’s more likely than not) that the person committed a crime; the person may lawfully be arrested. After the arrest, the police have the right to search the person and any area within the person’s reach.

2. Plain View – if the police have a legitimate reason to be somewhere, and they see illegal contraband (typically drugs or weapons) in plain site, they do not need a warrant to seize the contraband.

3. Consent – if the officers are given consent by someone they reasonably believe lives at a residence or is legally entitled to possess the property, they can enter and search without a warrant.

4. Stop and Frisk – if the officer has reasonable suspicion based on the circumstances of a criminal act, the officer can stop and frisk the person. Any evidence obtained from the frisk can be seized without a warrant.

5. Automobile Exception – an officer based on his or her observations may search a car without a warrant as long as there is reasonable suspicion to do so or in cases where the officer stops a car, as long as there is a traffic violation.

6. Emergencies/Hot Pursuit – if it is reasonable for the officers fear the evidence would be destroyed if they waited to obtain a search warrant, no search warrant is required. Also, if the officers are in pursuit of a suspect, they can follow the suspect onto private property without a search warrant even if the suspect has no legal right to be on the private property. Anything found during the hot pursuit can be seized without a warrant.

In the case, police installed a GPS-tracking device to the defendant’s vehicle after obtaining a warrant to do so. Evidence of drug trafficking was obtained and used to convict the defendant, but the evidence was obtained after the warrant has expired. The Supreme Court threw out the evidence from the GPS device and reversed the conviction.

The Supreme Court voted unanimously that the GPS attachment was a search, but five of the justices reasoned it was a search because the government physically intruded on private property, and the other four justices said it was a search because it violated “reasonable expectations of privacy.”

If you or a loved one have been served with a search warrant and/or were arrested, it is essential that you have a knowledgeable attorney on your side right away. Protect your rights, call Twin Cities Defense before it’s too late.