06/27/2011

Supreme Court to review GPS tracking by police

In 1983, the court ruled that a suspect may be tracked on a single car trip and now they must decide if tracking is acceptable over weeks at a time

By PoliceOne Staff

WASHINGTON — An upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision will determine whether police need a warrant before they can use GPS devices in cars to keep tabs on suspects for extended periods, it was announced Monday.

The nine-month case – which will focus on privacy rights and new surveillance technology – is due to begin in October.

It follows a precedent-setting ruling by a U.S. appeals court that police must obtain a warrant to use GPS devices for extended periods to monitor criminal suspects, according to Reuters.

The court threw out the conviction and the life-in-prison sentence for Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner in Washington, D.C., in which a GPS device played a major role in securing a conviction conspiracy for distribution of cocaine, the report said.

Prolonged electronic monitoring of Jones' vehicle amounted to an "unreasonable search," the court ruled.

The constitution prohibits unreasonable searches under the Fourth Amendment, but the high court has never before considered how that may apply to GPS devices. In a previous statement, the court has said that the central question they are exploring is whether a “reasonable expectation of privacy” exists and has been violated.

In 1983, the court ruled that a suspect may be tracked on a single car trip and now they must decide if tracking is acceptable over weeks at a time.

In another case before a federal appeals court, judges determined that “the whole of one’s movements over the course of a month” indicates “far more than the individual movements it comprises.”

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