Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a warrant before using GPS tracking devices to monitor suspects. The ruling reinforced fourth amendment rights in the digital age.
Under the fourth amendment of the U.S. Constitution, citizens are protected against unlawful search and seizure. While the constitution does not have a “right to privacy” clause or even the word “privacy” in it, Bill of Rights does offer many protections to citizens that protect their privacy. Never are these protections more important than when someone is accused of a crime.
The high profile case of United States vs. Jones involves a nightclub owner and drug dealer named Antoine Jones. Washington D.C. Police installed a GPS tracking device to his vehicle and monitored his movements for 28 days as part of their investigation. This is certainly not the first time the police have used GPS tracking devices as part of their investigation.
During the 2003 investigation of now convicted murderer, Scott Peterson, Modesto, Calif., police installed GPS tracking devices on four vehicles used by Peterson in an effort to gather evidence and find the body of his missing wife, Laci Peterson. During the trial, Peterson’s defense attorney Mark Geragos did not argue about the constitutionality of the GPS tracking device but instead argued the accuracy of the technology.
His argument included the fact that the FAA had not approved GPS technology to be used in the landing of aircraft thus arguing that it did not provide a level of accuracy worthy of credibility, especially in a capital murder trial. However, the judge allowed the GPS data to be used in the trial.
While GPS technology has improved since then, the accuracy of the devices was not in question in the recent Supreme Court case but rather the invasive, warrantless nature of the devices. The justices found the devices to be more intrusive on a citizen then low-tech methods of tracking like following and personal surveillance.
During the case, the attorney arguing on behalf of the United States was asked by Chief Justice John Roberts, “You could tomorrow decide that you put a GPS device on every one of our cars, follow us for a month, no problem, under the Constitution?”
Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben replied with “yes.”
With their ruling against unwarranted GPS tracking devices, the Supreme Court extended a privacy right to U.S. citizens suspected of crimes. Often times, individuals that are known suspects in a crime make the mistake of believing their innocence alone is substantial to maintain their freedom. If suspected or charged with a crime, one should immediately contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer that can make sure the police are not overstepping their boundaries and infringing upon their rights.