Supreme Court: Police Need a Search Warrant To Implant GPS Device

Posted January 23, 2012 in Criminal Law by

The Supreme Court ruled today that the government cannot install a GPS device on your vehicle to track your whereabouts unless it has obtained a warrant first.

United States Supreme Court Justices

In a unanimous decision, the court sided with Washington D.C. area resident and suspected drug trafficker Antoine Jones, after police tracked him for a month and used that evidence to arrest him. He was eventually convicted and sentenced to life in prison for drug conspiracy. Using the GPS, the court said, encroached on Jones’ expectation of privacy and therefore was a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

A federal appeals court had previously overturned his conviction.

“It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The Government physically occupied private proper­ty for the purpose of obtaining information,” wrote opinion author Antonin Scalia. “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.”

Police had actually obtained a warrant to place the device on the car owned by Jones’ wife, but messed up by waiting too long and acting outside the legal window they had to install it, and by implanting the device in Maryland, not in D.C. where the warrant was valid.

The ruling did not extend to using GPS to track personal devices like cell phones, but should have, according to a concurring opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito and signed by three other justices.

Reactions are still coming in but activists are already praising the ruling as a big victory for privacy rights.

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