Television shows may make it seem like it is no big deal to monitor a suspect electronically. It sometimes looks so easy to track a person through their cell phone or computer, just a matter a few keystrokes. Recently, however, the United States Supreme Court was faced with the issue of when electronic surveillance violates a suspect’s Constitutional Rights. The Fourth Amendment guarantees the right against unlawful search and seizure. But what, in this day and age, constitutes a “search?”
A recent Washington case involved a suspected drug trafficker, operating out of his nightclub, brought national attention to the issues surrounding GPS tracking. Suspect Antoine Jones was monitored, via GPS tracker on his car, for almost a month. The issue involved the warrant, which granted the FBI and D.C Metro Police the right to place the tracker on Jones’ car. However, the parameters in the warrant were not followed. The police placed the tracker a day after the warrant had expired and also in Maryland, when the warrant specifically said it had to be placed in D.C.
The evidence that was eventually found incriminated Jones. He was tracked to a house that had almost 100 kilograms of cocaine and almost a million dollars in case. Jones was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Since the evidence obtained violated the “fruit of the poisonous tree” rule (was obtained through illegal means), the case found its way to the Supreme Court.
In U.S. v. Jones, the Court unanimously ruled that the police were in error. Five of the justices said that the tracking constituted a government “search,” done without a proper warrant. Therefore, Jones’ Constitutional rights were violated. The other four justices said that the tracking violated Jones’ reasonable expectation of privacy.
In our current electronic age, it’s surprising that there haven’t been more issues of this nature. It is a safe bet that in the near future, America will be hearing much more about cases like this.