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United States v. Jones - 565 U.S. 400, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012)


The United States Supreme has said that the Fourth Amendment protects people, not places, and has found a violation in attachment of an eavesdropping device to a public telephone booth. The Court's later cases have applied the analysis of Justice Harlan's concurrence in the Katz case, which said that a violation occurs when government officers violate a person's "reasonable expectation of privacy."


The Government obtained a search warrant permitting it to install a Global-Positioning-System (GPS) tracking device on a vehicle registered to respondent Jones's wife. The warrant authorized installation in the District of Columbia and within 10 days, but agents installed the device on the 11th day and in Maryland. The Government then tracked the vehicle's movements for 28 days. It subsequently secured an indictment of Jones and others on drug trafficking conspiracy charges. The District Court suppressed the GPS data obtained while the vehicle was parked at Jones's residence, but held the remaining data admissible because Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy when the vehicle was on public streets. Jones was convicted. The D. C. Circuit reversed, concluding that admission of the evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. A jury returned a guilty verdict. The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed the conviction and denied the Government's petition for rehearing en banc. Certiorari was granted.


Did the admission of the evidence obtained by warrantless use of the GPS device violate the Fourth Amendment?




The U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Government's installation of the GPS device on defendant's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constituted a "search." Under the common-law trespassory test, the Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. Such a physical intrusion would have been considered a "search" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted. Defendant possessed the vehicle at the time the Government trespassorily inserted the information-gathering device. The Government forfeited its alternative argument that officers had reasonable suspicion and probable cause.

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