|GPS Tracking Needs Warrant
|Tampa Drug Charge Defense Lawyer, Attorney
W.F. “Casey” Ebsary, Jr. reviewed an interesting appeals court decision where police put a GPS Tracking Device on a car and followed him for weeks. The defendant was arrested for Federal cocaine
charges. Specifically, “conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine
and 50 or more grams of cocaine base
.” The court summarized the case as involving “Evidence Obtained from GPS
On a side note, California, has made it illegal for anyone except law enforcement to use a GPS to determine the location or movement of a person. In some jurisdictions, GPS tracking of a person’s location without that person’s knowledge is a violation of an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.” Some law enforcement agencies use “darts” a miniaturized GPS receiver, radio transmitter, and battery embedded in a sticky compound material. Cops shoot the darts at a vehicle and it sticks to the target tracking begins.
The Court further held “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 appeal centered on defense arguments that “his conviction should be overturned because the police violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches by tracking his movements 24 hours a day for four weeks with a GPS device they had installed on his Jeep without a valid warrant. We consider first whether that use of the device was a search and then, having concluded it was, consider whether it was reasonable and whether any error was harmless.” The court ruled that tracking with GPS was a search. A Search Warrant was required.
The Government used the GPS data to show a pattern of travels by the defendant. The Court mentioned , “This case itself illustrates how the sequence of a person‘s movements may reveal more than the individual movements of which it is composed. Having tracked Jones‘s movements for a month, the Government used the resulting pattern — not just the location of a particular ― stash house or Jones‘s movements on any one trip or even day — as evidence of Jones‘s involvement in the cocaine trafficking business. The pattern the Government would document with the GPS data was central to its presentation of the case . . . .” The court further noted, “The GPS data were essential to the Government‘s case. By combining them with Jones‘s cell-phone records the Government was able to paint a picture of Jones‘s movements that made credible the allegation that he was involved in drug trafficking.”
The Court also stated, “A reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there; rather, he expects each of those movements to remain ― ‘disconnected and anonymous’.” In closing the Court held, “Society recognizes Jones‘s expectation of privacy in his movements over the course of a month as reasonable, and the use of the GPS device to monitor those movements defeated that reasonable expectation.” The court concluded its forty-one page opinion stating the cocaine trafficking defendant’s, “conviction is reversed because it was obtained with evidence procured in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
The complete opinion is a free download here.
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