TRACKING

United States v. Jones

Issues 

Whether law enforcement’s installation and use of a GPS tracking device to continuously monitor a person’s vehicle movements for an extended period of time violates that person’s Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable or warrantless searches and seizures.

 

FBI agents installed a Global Positioning System (“GPS”) tracking device on Antoine Jones’s vehicle as part of a drug trafficking investigation. The United States used the locational data from the GPS in a federal trial that resulted in Jones’s conviction for conspiracy. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that conviction, holding that the agents needed a warrant before installing the GPS. The United States argues that a warrant was unnecessary because Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements in public and was never deprived use of his Jeep. Jones responds that he has a privacy interest in the aggregation of his movements over a prolonged period and that the aggregation of such information interferes with his use of the Jeep. The Supreme Court’s decision will affect how police employ new technologies to reduce the manpower and cost required for criminal investigations. The Court’s decision will also consider how citizens can protect themselves from government officials’ possible abuse of new technologies, particularly where misuse threatens fundamental privacy rights.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties 

Whether the warrantless use of a tracking device on respondent's vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment.

In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following question: “whether the government violated respondent's fourth amendment rights by installing the GPS tracking device on his vehicle without a valid warrant and without his consent.”

In 2004, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) launched an investigation on two business partners, Antoine Jones and Lawrence Maynard, for possible drug trafficking. See United States v. Maynard, 615 F.3d 544, 549 (D.C. Cir.

Acknowledgments 

The authors would like to thank Professor Sherry Colb for her insights into this case and former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources 

• Wex: Privacy

• Verdict, Sherry Colb: One Way or Another, I’m Gonna Find Ya: The U.S. Supreme Court Considers Whether GPS Tracking of Suspects’ Cars Requires a Search Warrant (Sept. 21, 2011)

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