In a stunning decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, all 9 justices agreed that the attachment of a GPS device to a citizen’s car, without a warrant, violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.   In Jones, the police in Washington D.C. had obtained a search warrant to attach a GPS to Jones’s wife’s car.  Jones was known as a drug dealer.  The warrant was good for 10 days.  Of course, the cops attached it to the car on the 11th day.  The cops then tracked the car for 28 days.  Jones was charged, and ultimately convicted of drug trafficking.  However, his attorney filed a motion to suppress the tracking, and ultimately the evidence, because the police did not have a valid warrant.  The federal district court denied the motion.  On appeal the D.C. Circuit Court  of Appeals granted the motion and reversed the conviction.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, all 9 justices agreed that the police actions were unconstitutional.  The lead opinion by Justice Scalia, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Kennedy, Justice Sotomoyer, and Justice Thomas took a unique and frankly forgotten approach to the 4th amendment.  Since the 1960s, the primary test used by courts to determine if a search violated the Fourth Amendment was the Katz test, after Katz v United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967)   In short, the question would be whether the citizen had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the thing or area searched.

However, the majority instead found that the government had trespassed on the “effects” of the citizen by placing a GPS device on the car without a valid warrant.  The  Fourth Amendment protects ” the right of the people to be free in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.”  The Court found the physical trespass by the government by installation of a device was a trespass against Jones and thus, unconstitutional.

On an alternative and equally important basis, the other 4 justices found that the 28 days of tracking without a warrant was in fact contrary to a “reasonable expectation of privacy.”  This is important because in previous  cases, the Court had allowed monitoring of electronic devices (like locational beepers) in people’s cars or suitcases without a warrant, finding that there was no Fourth Amendment violation.  However, Justice Alito joined by 3 other justices found that 28 days of continuous tracking without a warrant violated Jone’s reasonable expectation of  privacy under the Fourth Amendment.

You can read the case here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1259.pdf

Call Nye & Associates if you have a criminal matter in Crawford County, Grayling, MI, Roscommon County, Roscommon, MI, Kalkaska County, Kalkaska, Michigan, Oscoda County, Oscoda, MI, Mio, Michigan or other Northern or Central Michigan  criminal courts for competent and aggressive criminal defense.

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