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Federal appeals court says warrant is required for GPS use

We've known since early last year that GPS devices placed on vehicles by police constitute a search. The U.S. Supreme Court issued that decision back in January 2012. What was left unanswered is the question: If GPS devices do constitute a search; do police have to obtain a warrant before attaching one and tracking it?

That question has yet to be cleared up completely, but a recent decision out of a federal appeals court puts weight on the side of "warrant required." The ruling only has implications for the jurisdictions covered by the Third District -- which does not happen to cover Virginia. But some legal observers note that as similar cases are brought into other courts, attorneys are likely to cite the ruling as a measure of precedent.

The case involves allegations against three brothers of drug crime charges. They are accused of burglarizing pharmacies in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland. According to court records, as a means of gathering evidence against the three men, authorities decided to put a magnetic GPS device on the vehicle of one of the brothers and began to track it. They did not get a warrant before doing so. This all happened before the Supreme Court decision of 2012.

The issue brought to the courts is the defense claim that the evidence obtained by virtue of the GPS device should be suppressed because police acted without a warrant. A District Court agreed and ruled for the brothers. The government appealed, and the appellate court upheld the lower court decision.

Whether the issue will be appealed to the Supreme Court isn't known. It's also not clear what effect the current ruling may have on the ultimate prosecution of the drug charges against the three brothers.

Source: WashingtonPost.com, "Court says police need a warrant to track vehicles via GPS," Andrea Peterson, Oct. 22, 2013

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