The federal courts are split over whether the police must obtain a search warrant before secretly attaching a Global Positiong System device under someone’s car. The issue is whether the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures covers a device that records a suspect’s movements for days, weeks, or months without any need for a police officer or drug task force agent to follow the suspect. Traditionally, the courts have held that the Fourth amendment does not cover the trailing of a suspect because a citizen has no expectations of privacy for actions exposed to public view.
With the explosion of technology to track someone’s movement by GPS or cell phone, how do the court’s apply Fourth Amendment privacy rights in the 21st century?
The D.C. Circuit held on August 6 , 2010 that a warrant is needed for prolonged GPS surveillance, recognizing People v. Weaver from New York and limiting Knotts. [This is a highly important decision. Every criminal and constitutional lawyer needs to read it.] United States v. Maynard, 2010 U.S. App. LEXIS 16417 (D.C.Cir. August 6, 2010): Thanks to the Fourth Amendment for this clip. Here is the full commenatary on this case.
How will this issue play out in the State Courts of Tennessee on supression issues? Luckily, Tennessee’s Costitution has greater protectons than the U. S. Constitution. One key fact to consider is whether it is currently illegal to place a GPS tracking device on someone’s car. However, there is a police exception which I suggest does not pass a constitutional challenge.