Important Supreme Court Case Regarding GPS Tracking

GPS technology can be a wonderful thing, just ask anyone with a terrible sense of direction what a godsend it can be. While the technology has many helpful, civilian uses it can also be used for other, more insidious purposes.

As a case before the U.S. Supreme Court just this week highlighted, GPS can also be used by police to help crack down on crime. Thankfully, the Court’s ruling, that police have to get a proper search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects, should help limit law enforcement’s ability to misuse the technology.

The Court ruled just this week on a case involving a nightclub owner in Washington, D.C. who had a GPS tracking device attached to his Jeep. As a result of the tracking, law enforcement officials were able to gather evidence which linked him to a house used to stash drugs and money. Jones’ movements were monitored for 28 days and he was convicted of conspiring to sell cocaine. A federal appeals court eventually overturned his drug conspiracy conviction because police did not have a warrant when they installed the GPS device on his vehicle. When evidence is collected illegally, as was the information linking the nightclub owner to the drug house, a skilled criminal attorney may be able to use that to fight charges brought against you.

The issue was a lot clearer in Texas where a law already exists saying that police must get a judge’s order before using GPS to track suspected criminals. “Police officer’s aren’t allowed to do that unless they go through our own Texas Code of Criminal Procedure and follow the prescriptions there. Which is applying to the judge for an order and having a judge review it and having a judge do that,” says Corpus Christi District Attorney Mark Skurka.

In Texas, specific steps are spelled out with regard to receiving such a warrant. Law enforcement officials must turn to a judge for permission to install a GPS tracking device. Their request must clearly state why that particular agency believes such tracking will help their case in proving that a crime has or will be committed. Officials must then show the geographic area where the GPS will track and for how long the device will be used. The law goes on to state that such a device may be placed only on a car, or in a container on a car, not on some other piece of personal property belonging to the suspected criminal.

Though the Supreme Court ruling has important implications across the country, Texas law was already clear on the subject. In Texas, individuals were already protected from warrantless GPS tracking.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.