All nine Justices on the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the police must obtain a search warrant before attaching a GPS device to a suspect’s vehicle. In the case, called United States v. Jones, a Washington, D.C. nightclub owner named Antoine Jones was suspected of Cocaine drug trafficking. Police attached a GPS to the underside of Jones’s vehicle and monitored his movements for a month. The information gathered by the GPS device helped the trial court convict Jones of drug crimes. Jones appealed his conviction.
Supreme Court concluded Jones had a reasonable expectation of privacy
The Supreme Court Justices ruled that attaching the GPS device to Jones’ vehicle constituted a search, and therefore a search warrant should have been issued. In making this decision, the Justices weighed the fact that where we drive on public streets is not necessarily a secret and everyone should have a reasonable expectation of privacy that our movements will not be monitored by the police for a month. The Supreme Court concluded that Jones did have a reasonable expectation of privacy that the police would not physically place a GPS tracker on the underside of his vehicle. As technology develops, courts are consistently revisiting the limits of constitutional protections against government intrusions into our lives. This decision will go a long way to help protect the 4th Amendment rights of criminal defendants who were charged after high-tech investigation techniques.
How would you feel if you found out the police had been tracking where you went for the last month using a device secretly placed on your car? This question may be less and less relevant due to the rapid pace of new technology advancements. For many of us with smart phones, GPS systems, I-pads, tablets and computers with tracking technology, there is an incredible amount of information already available to us that is in the “cloud”. Questions dealing with how much and under what conditions this information is available to police investigators will be the subject of intense litigation for years to come.