February 2, 2012

United States Supreme Court - U.S. v. Jones - 4th Amendment - Warrantless Search - GPS Tracker

United States v. Jones            Warrantless Search – GPS Tracker
Facts: The Government obtained a warrant to put a GPS tracker on a suspected drug trafficker’s car. The trial court granted the motion, but directed the Government to put the tracker on the car within 10 days of the order. The Government affixed the GPS tracker to Mr. Jones' car on the 11th day – outside the time limit for the warrant.
Issue: Whether tracking people with a GPS tracker amounts to a search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment?
Held: Yes.
Reasoning: Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion. Although no Justice dissented, the Court produced three opinions, the majority and two concurring opinions.
            The Government hinged its case on Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967), where, in concurrence, Justice Harlan formulated the definition of a search, “My understanding of the rule that has emerged from prior decisions is that there is a twofold requirement, first that a person have exhibited an actual (subjective) expectation of privacy and, second, that the expectation be one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’” (citations omittedThus, the Government, hereclaimed because all of the vehicle's movements could be viewed in the open by anyone, Mr. Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Justice Scalia reached back past Katz, to when Supreme Court jurisprudence only defined searches to be some trespass onto property. However, Justice Scalia reasoned, “As Justice Brennan explained in his concurrence in Knotts, Katz did not erode the principle ‘that, when the Government does engage in physical intrusion of a constitutionally protected area in order to obtain information, that intrusion may constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment.’ We have embodied that preservation of past rights in our very definition of ‘reasonable expectation of privacy’ which we have said to be an expectation ‘that has a source outside of the Fourth Amendment, either by reference to concepts of real or personal property law or to understandings that are recognized and permitted by society.’”
Justice Alito quarreled with the Court’s ‘reviving’ of old trespass tort law to decide the case. Justice Alito, with Justices, Kagan, Ginsberg, and Breyer joining, wrote a concurring opinion that would have simply decided the case in favor of Mr. Jones under the reasoning of Katz.
Nevertheless,  every Justice agreed that tracking people in the United States without a warrant or in excess of a warrant (as was done here) amounts to unconstitutional conduct by the Government.
Link to United States v. Jones here

1 comment:

  1. Hi, Eric Sims, i think the definition given by Justice Harlan is justifying the case


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