As you can see every day, technology continues to become more and more advanced and sophisticated. Cell phones are almost a necessity for many, the Internet is accessible anywhere at anytime, and traveling has been made easier with global positioning satellite services.
GPS is found in many devices, including cell phones and gadgets that provide maps for people on the go. The recent case of a Washington, D.C., man who was tracked by the FBI in a Washington, D.C., drug case has gone to the United States Supreme Court because of alleged police misconduct. Washington, D.C., criminal defense lawyers have seen instances where overzealous police work leads to a violation of rights. In many cases like that, the charges get dropped when the evidence is suppressed.
In the United States vs. Antoine Jones case, the FBI tracked the man through a GPS device for four weeks without a warrant. A Washington, D.C., appeals court ruled that his drug conviction, and subsequent life sentence, should be overturned because of a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.
Every person has a right to avoid unlawful search and seizure. Under the Fourth Amendment, a person can't be subjected to the police barreling in without a warrant or a reason to enter. This applies to vehicles and businesses, too. This important protection ensures that police don't overstep their bounds when conducting an investigation.
In this case, Jones was monitored with a GPS device for a month by agents who didn't have a warrant to do so. They also didn't have permission to install a GPS device on his car in the first place. The tracking and later arrest led to a 2008 conviction on a charge of possession and distribution of more than 50 kilograms of cocaine.
In arguing before the Supreme Court, attorneys for the government relied on old cases that dealt with the right to privacy. Justices argued, though, that technology has changed dramatically in the last 30 years. GPS devices allow police to track people much more easily today.
Justices also were concerned that ruling against Jones in this case could open up every citizen in the United States to monitoring without a warrant. Jones' lawyer argued that private information was seized by authorities while they used the GPS device. The government doesn't have the right to steal information from citizens, he argued.
This isn't just an issue with the FBI, however. Local law enforcement agencies use the devices during investigations as well. This should be concerning for all citizens. If police have the right to attach GPS devices to your vehicle without reason, that's essentially the same concept as them being able to knock down your door for no reason and start rummaging through the house.
This would be a major hit to everyone's Fourth Amendment rights and a continued assault on the privacy of citizens throughout the country. For people charged with a crime, it would allow police more access to your personal affairs and potentially create more evidence in a criminal case. Stay tuned.
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Supreme Court hears GPS use argument, by Ronica Shannon, The Richmond Register