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Supreme Court Decides Warrant Required for GPS Search

When you are accused of a crime, you may not know what to do next, especially if this is the first time you have ever been in trouble. You might think that if you have been arrested, you will have very few opportunities to prove that you are innocent. You trust that law enforcement has followed proper procedures throughout their investigation.

However, this is not always the case. In a decision that may have an impact on those who have been charged with Pennsylvania drug crimes, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled that the use of a GPS device on a suspect's vehicle amounted to a search. This means that law enforcement needed to comply with the protections offered by the Fourth Amendment, and obtain a warrant before the device could be installed.

In this particular case, Antoine Davis was suspected of being involved with a drug ring in Washington, D.C. Police obtained a warrant to install the device on a vehicle owned by Davis' wife, but did not comply with the warrant's requirements. Davis was then tracked using the GPS device, and this data was examined to determine if any criminal activity was occurring. Based on the information that was revealed by the tracking, Davis was arrested and appealed his conviction. The evidence obtained by the GPS device was excluded,

However, the case still left some issues unresolved. Many people now have smartphones that automatically track their location. This information can be stored on the phone or in other locations. The Court did not address what rights to privacy an individual has in connection to information that has been disclosed to third parties (like, for example, cellphone or internet service providers.)

The law can sometimes take a long time to catch up with technology. This case demonstrates how important is to carefully review any defenses that may be available when accused of a crime. Knowing the options that are available in a particular situation can help a person make a decision that is in his or her best interests.

Huffington Post, "Warrantless GPS Unconstitutional, Supreme Court Rules" Mike Sacks, Jan. 23, 2012.

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Gregory R. Gifford
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