Today, in the case of United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) held that law enforcement attaching GPS devices to vehicles is a physical trespass and constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution. In doing so, the court affirmed the lower court’s judgment suppressing the GPS tracking evidence. I posted previously regarding the use of warrantless GPS tracking by law enforcement and the civil rights suit against the government by Yasir Afifi.
United States v. Jones arose from the government attaching a GPS to the underside of Jones’ car. The government did not affix the GPS within the time prescribed by the warrant. Jones’ vehicle was tracked by the government for 28 days which led to his indictment in a federal drug conspiracy.
The Fourth Amendment protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The Court did not hinge its decision on a Katz v. United States analysis, which held that the Fourth Amendment protects a person’s “reasonable expectation of privacy.” Instead, the Court held that the physical trespass alone is enough to trigger the 4th Amendment.
What does these mean for the criminal defense practice? I believe this will reel in law enforcement’s repeated narrowing of the protections provided by the Fourth Amendment and allow the careful scrutiny by the Courts of the use of new surveillance technologies. This should also stop the increasing use of GS tracking without any judicial oversight as law enforcement would need probable cause and a warrant to attach the GPS device to vehicles. Based on the ever-increasing use of surveillance technology by law enforcement, I would expect more appeals dealing with government monitoring its citizens in the near future.
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