By Jennifer Geiger on January 22, 2012
Secret Global Positioning System tracking is a violation of the Fourth Amendment, says a new U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure. All nine justices ruled that a warrant is necessary to use GPS when tracking suspects in a criminal investigation.
At the center of the case is suspected narcotics trafficker and D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones, who was busted for possession of cocaine and firearms after police secretly tracked him by attaching a GPS unit to his car. The police got a warrant authorizing them to install the GPS unit on the suspect's Jeep Grand Cherokee. However, problems arose because of how the warrant was used. Police had 10 days to mount the device on the car, but didn't do it until day 11. The monitoring was also supposed to be done while in D.C., but the suspect was followed across state lines to Maryland.
Law enforcement tracked Jones and arrested him after recovering almost $70,000 in cash, wholesale quantities of cocaine and firearms from his car. He was also traced to a drug house in Maryland where police recovered more narcotics and cash.
Jones was sentenced to life in prison based on the evidence collected from the GPS sting, but an appeals court overturned the conviction. The Supreme Court ruling upholds the previous ruling on the basis that use of the secret GPS device constituted an unreasonable search and seizure.
"We hold that the government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search' under the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in his ruling.
Supreme Court: Warrants needed in GPS tracking (Washington Post)
Assistant Managing Editor Jennifer Geiger is a reviewer, car-seat technician and mom of three. She wears a lot of hats, many of them while driving a minivan. Email Jennifer