U.S. Supreme Court Determines GPS Trackers are Unreasonable Searches

On behalf of Law Office of Steven Haney posted in Drug Possession on Wednesday, January 25, 2012

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court further brought criminal law into the digital age by deciding whether the use of a GPS tracking system by police without a warrant was considered an “unreasonable search” under the Fourth Amendment, and thus unconstitutional – which they decided in the affirmative.

The decision will undoubtedly have implications for how police gather evidence for the purpose of bringing criminal charges throughout the country, including Illinois.

U.S. Supreme Court Opinion

This recent Supreme Court opinion stems from a drug operation that discovered $1 million and almost 100 kilograms of cocaine during a raid of a Maryland house in 2005.

Police and FBI had originally obtained a federal warrant to put the defendant under surveillance using a variety of methods, include cellphone taps – surveillance lasting for many months. However, the defendant’s conviction was voided by a federal appellate court because police had followed the defendant for four weeks using a GPS tracker on his jeep without a proper warrant – their District of Columbia warrant had expired before the GPS was put on the vehicle in Maryland.

So in an effort to uphold the conviction, the government claimed a warrant was never even needed for the GPS tracker to begin with – an argument the Justices didn’t seem to agree with.

Although the Supreme Court decision was unanimous, the Justices differed as to the reasoning. The minority generally favored an all-encompassing stance that the use of a GPS tracker not only trespassed on the defendant’s private property but also that tracking the defendant for a month violated his reasonable expectation of privacy. The majority felt that the analysis didn’t even have to go that far because they believed that simply putting the GPS tracker on the car was the same as a search of his home, which is impermissible without a warrant.

Technology is quickly evolving in today’s world, and this opinion by the Supreme Court will help the justice system keep pace with these advancements.

Source: Justices Rein In Police on GPS Trackers