U.S. Supreme Court takes up warrantless GPS monitoring

By Sylvia Hsieh

The Daily Record Newswire

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to decide whether police can secretly install a GPS device and monitor a vehicle's movements for a prolonged period of time without a warrant.

The circuits are split over the issue.

The Court will review a D.C. Circuit decision that overturned a drug conviction finding that the warrantless installing and use of the GPS device over a month-long period violated the Fourth Amendment.

Police installed the device on a Jeep owned by Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner.

Although the police obtained a warrant, they installed the device after the warrant expired and outside the jurisdiction where it applied.

They tracked the car's movements for over a month. Jones was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine.

The government argued that the defendant had no privacy interest in his comings and goings, which all occurred on public roads.

But the D.C. Circuit disagreed, finding that comprehensive, sustained monitoring differed from tracking individual movements.

"[W]e hold the whole of a person's movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood a stranger would observe all those movements is not just remote, it is essentially nil.

"It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements and chores that make up that person's hitherto private routine."

The en banc appeals court denied rehearing, although four judges dissented in the denial.

Contrary rulings from the 7th, 8th and 9th Circuits have held that warrantless GPS tracking is not a "search" under the Fourth Amendment.

A decision from the Supreme Court is expected next term.

U.S. v. Jones, No. 10-1259. Certiorari granted June 27, 2011. Ruling below: U.S. v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544 (D.C. Cir. 2010).

Published: Mon, Aug 1, 2011


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