GPS Tracking Requires Search Warrant

All criminal cases involve a search or seizure of property or person. Under the Fourth Amendment, United States Constitution, unreasonable searches and seizures are unlawful and evidence seized as a result must be suppressed. Since prosecutors don’t normally highlight police’ unlawful searches and seizures, criminal defense attorneys must raise the issue, and thus must have an intimate and working knowledge of the Fourth Amendment to protect their clients and enforce the constitutional limits on government power.

Since the facts and circumstances of every case are different, what is deemed “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment requires new analysis each time. Considering exponentially-increasing technology, police’ searches and seizures are becoming more frequently questioned and challenged.

For example, a district court in Minnesota recently ruled that police must obtain a search warrant before tracking a person’s vehicle using GPS technology, and accordingly the judge dismissed a case in favor of the defendant. Fourth Amendment professor at George Washington University praised the court’s decision calling the unwarranted GPS tracking “not a subtle threat to privacy and security: People get it immediately and intuitively” (Id.).

What makes the Minnesota decision notable is that the police involved were not street police but state natural resource police. The case clearly stood for the rule that all officers, whether patrolling the streets or woods, are limited by the Fourth Amendment.

Enforcing the Fourth Amendment is not about protecting criminal activity: it’s about enforcing the rule of law We the People established as foundational to our political existence. It presumes individual liberty and puts the burden of justifying police intrusion on the government. If police do not follow this constitutional limit, prosecutors cannot use any evidence unlawfully obtained against anyone.

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