The U. S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in U.S .v. Jones (Docket No. 10-1259) on Tuesday, November 8th. The facts of the Jones case were first presented in the DC District Court in 2006 and then in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2010.
The U.S. District Court of D. C. summarized the Jones case this way in their Memorandum Opinion and Order dated August 1,2011 (2011 WL 3332856):
Antoine Jones the defendant in the above referenced case was found guilty of a conspiracy to distribute and/or possess with intent to distribute five kilograms or more of powder cocaine and fifty grams or more of crack cocaine on January 10, 2008. The Court sentenced Jones to life imprisonment.
On August 6, 2010, the Court of Appeals reversed Jones’s conviction on the grounds that the government had violated the Fourth Amendment by installing a GPS device on Jones’s vehicle without a warrant, 615 F. 3d 544,D.C. Cir. 2010.
The government thru the U.S. Solicitor General sought review of this decision before the Supreme Court, which granted its petition for a writ of certiorari on June 27, 2011.
The question presented in the Jones case was: did the law enforcement officers violate the Fourth Amendment by not getting a warrant before installing a GPS device on the defendant’s car? In a 2010 New York Times article written by Charlie Savage the author presented the question this way:
The issue is whether the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches covers a device that records a suspect’s movement for weeks or months without any need for an officer to trail him.
Savage went on to say that Massachusetts, New York, Oregon and Washington all believe that their state constitutions require warrants be issued before GPS devices can be placed on automobiles.
Judge Douglas Ginsburg who wrote the Jones case opinion for the U.S. Court of Appeals of D. C. questioned whether a secret 24-7 surveillance constitutes unreasonable searches? Ginsburg argued that a search that is for a limited period of time is not the same as a search that is for a more extended period of time.
Prolonged surveillance reveals types of information not revealed by short-term surveillance, such as what a person does repeatedly, what he does not do, and what he does ensemble…
A person who knows all of another’s travels can deduce whether he is a weekly churchgoer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups-and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts, U.S. v. Maynard ,615F.3d 544, at 562.
The questions to be addressed in the Supreme Court by Petitioner and Respondent are:
- Whether the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device on respondent’s vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment.
- Whether the government violated respondent’s Fourth Amendment rights by attaching the GPS tracking device to his vehicle without a valid warrant and without his consent.
Currently the state courts and the federal circuit courts are divided on whether warrants are required before a GPS device can be used, thus you have the ninth Circuit case US v. Pineda-Moreno, 591 F.3d 1212 and the DC Circuit Court in Jones case reaching different conclusions on the warrant question. The state courts in New York, Oregon and Washington have concluded that their state constitutions demand that warrants must be issued first before any GPS devices can be used issued.
In Commonwealth v. Connolly Judge Cowin concludes that although the US Supreme Court has decided that use of a “beeper” placed inside a vehicle to track that vehicle while traveling on a public road is not a search for Fourth Amendment purposes as in (U.S. v. Knotts),460 U.S. 276, 281-283. The Court has not yet determined whether installation of a GPS device on a vehicle constitutes a search under the 4th Amendment.
What do you think?