- Major Appellate Court Ruling: the 3rd Circuit Rules that a warrant is required to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle
In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Jones, (132 S.Ct. 945, 2012,) that placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle does constitute a search. The Supreme Court declined to rule whether such a search required a warrant, or if such searches are therefore unreasonable under the Constitution. The lower courts had punted on the issue since then, allowing good faith exceptions for GPS devices placed prior to the Jones ruling. This week, the 3rd Circuit issued a ruling that declared that not only does the placement of a GPS tracking device on someone’s vehicle constitute a search, such searches do require a warrant. United States v. Harry Katzin, et. al. (Docket No. 12-2548, Fed. 3rd Cir, 2013). [Case text included in linked Wired story.]
This does not prevent the government from using GPS tracking devices, it merely requires that the Constitutional warrant requirement be adhered to before they do so. The agents and prosecutors in the Katzin case knew about the Jones ruling, but did not bother to even ask for a warrant, even though they probably could have gotten one. Now, the evidence obtained as a result of the search will be excluded from any future trial, due to the government’s willful disregard for the Defendants’ Constitutional rights. This case will likely set a strong precedent, as it is in line with recent Supreme Court holdings.
In Florida, the Jones case has been followed in appellate cases refuting warrantless searches of cell phones [Smallwood v. State, 113 So.3d 724 (Fla. 2013)], and limiting officers who come onto property without warrants for investigatory purposes [Powell v. State, 120 So.3d 577 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013)].