Posted on Oct 23, 2013

On October 22, 2013, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that placing an electronic tracking device like GPS on a vehicle required a warrant based on probable cause.

United States v. Jones, 565 U.S.___, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012) is the decision at the core of the case that came before the Third Circuit. The government had argued that placing a GPS device only needed probable cause and not a warrant. The Supreme Court, in the U.S. v. Jones case ruled that such activitiy constituted a Fourth Amendment Search, but the high court did not rule on the warrant question. The Third Circuit case involved three brothers who were suspected of robbing pharmacies to obtain drugs. The FBI placed a GPS device on one of their cars, without requesting a warrant, and the brothers moved to supress the evidence found in the vehicle in a subsequent stop and search of the car.

Three organizations filed Amicus Curiae briefs in the Third Circuit case; the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that a warrant was needed to place a tracking device on a vehicle and rejected the government's arguments of "exceptions rules" dealing with moving automobiles and contraband. This is an interesting court decision and strengthens the rights under the Fourth Amendment, which are privacy and the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.