Supreme Court Unanimously Determines Warrant Necessary For GPS Tracking In United States v. Jones

In a victory for individuals over the often oppressive tactics of law enforcement, a unanimous United Supreme Court determined that police violated the constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracker on a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant. In United States v. Jones, the justices determined that placing the tracking device on the car violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection of “persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The court determined that this protection also includes private property such as automobiles.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia reasoned, “The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted.” Although the court had some differences in reasoning, all unanimously agreed that the police actions went too far and violated the suspect’s rights.

The constitution impacts nearly every aspect of the criminal process – from investigation, to charges, arrest and trial. Where police or other law enforcement officials overstep their bounds, their conduct that may serve as a defense to criminal charges. If you believe your rights may have been violated, it is important to speak to an experienced criminal lawyer in Michigan to protect your rights and begin preparing your defense.

Here, the government claimed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents use GPS tracking devices in thousands of cases each year and argued that using the tiny devices is too trivial to constitute a violation of a property right. However, the Court strongly disagreed, noting that even a small trespass if committed in “an attempt to find something or to obtain information” constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment. As stated by Justice Sotomayor, “In the digital age I for one doubt that people would accept without complaint the warrantless disclosure to the Government of a list of every website they have visited in the last week, or month, or year.”


This case will likely significantly affect matters of privacy in the digital era, potentially affecting matters of privacy concerning cellphone usage, email and online documents. As noted by one commentator, “This is a signal event in Fourth Amendment history.”

The U.S Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to privacy and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. As the technology advances so do the techniques used by law enforcement in their criminal investigations. Individuals need to fight to ensure their rights are protected. For more information or if you are under investigation for any crime, contact the aggressive Michigan criminal defense lawyers at Grabel & Associates for a free, immediate consultation.

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