Maryland Criminal Attorney -The Supreme Court today in a rare showing of unity among its liberal and conservative members, ruled that the police may not secretly place a GPS monitoring device on a suspect’s vehicle to track his movements without first obtaining a search and seizure warrant. The Roberts Court which has come to be defined in many people’s views by controversial 5-4 decisions ruled unanimously today that a person’s automobile is covered under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches of a person’s right to be secure in their houses, papers and “effects”. Here are details:
The government obtained a search and seizure warrant to put GPS on Jones wife’s vehicle. The warrant authorized an install of the device in the District of Columbia within 10 days. The agents installed the tracking device in Maryland on the 11th day after the warrant was issued. They then tracked the vehicle for 28 days and secured information resulting in an indictment of Jones and others on conspiracy and drug trafficking charges. The DC court suppressed the data obtained while the vehicle was parked at Jones residence but not while the vehicle was on public streets- stating that Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy. The DC circuit reversed concluding that the admission of evidence obtained by warrantless use violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed- citing the Fourth Amendment’s protection of a persons right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects.” The Court held the Government’s physical intrusion on an “effect” for the purpose of obtaining information constituted a search.
What is important to note is that the Government did advance the argument that even if a search, it was reasonable, but the Supreme Court did not address that argument as it was not raised below, thus forfeited. What may also be surprising to some to learn, President Obama’s Justice Department joined in the case arguing that the police should in fact be able to use these devices without a warrant.