In January 2012, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling in United States v. Jones, that the police must obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS device to a person’s car. The Court’s ruling, which applies to Florida, Pensacola and every state and municipality in the USA, holds that a Global Positioning System can only be placed on a suspect’s car to later establish probable cause and thus sufficient grounds to obtain a search warrant for a suspect’s car or home. Five justices suggested that might be similarly necessary for prolonged surveillance through smart phones or other devices with GPS capabilities. This type of GPS monitoring has, up until now, often been used in drug and narcotic cases to track suspect’s whereabouts without the use of a team of agents trailing a person.
Law enforcement had, unbeknownst to Mr. Jones and without a warrant, attached a GPS tracking device to the car that Antoine Jones was driving. Mr. Jones, who owned a nightclub in Washington, D.C., was surveilled through a satellite system and Agents used his “travels’ to various areas and homes, etc. to obtain a search warrant that ultimately led to a conviction in federal court on conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, an offense that carries with it at least a ten year minimum mandatory sentence.
Justice Scalia, one of the most conservative justices on the Court, wrote the majority opinion and found the “the government’s physical intrusion on the Jeep (by placing the GPS device on the car he was driving) to obtain information constitutes a search.”
The highest court in the land basically found that the Fourth Amendment which protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizures by law enforcement must continue to protect us against government intrusions even in the face of modern technological surveillance tools.
An exellent article written by Duke University Third Year law strudent, Edward Boeme, Warrantless GPS in U.S. v. Jones: Is 2011 the New 1984? in the Duke Journal of Constiutional Law & Public Policy Sidebar, Vol. 7, 2011. Mr. Boeme wrote this piece prior to the U.S. Supreme Court in Jones handed down it’s decision finding that when the police placed the GPS tracking device on the car Mr. Jones was driving, doing so effected a “seizure” for Fourth Amednment purposes. Mr. Boeme analyses the Fourth Amendment law surrounding this issue citing cases from both the government’s perspective and the citizen’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure and provides fascinating intricate details about the specific facts of the Jones case.
Keep in mind that the attachment of a GPS device, as discussed above, only applies when law enforcement attaches such a device. Albeit I do not practice family law I have heard of and seen advertisements for sale to the general public that sell GPS tracking devices for private citizens. The Jones case only applies to government behavior, not the behavior of private citizens. See your family law attorney for question surrounding this issue.
For other articles on Search and Search please see either the Article section or previous shorter articles written by Jim Jenkins contained in his blog dealing with substantive matters of criminal law.