U.S. v. Jones

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: November 8, 2011
  • Case #: 10-1259
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: 615 F.3d 544 (D.C. Cir 2010)
  • Full Text Opinion

Whether the government violated respondent’s Fourth Amendment rights by attaching a GPS tracking device to his vehicle and monitoring his movements on public streets without a valid warrant and without his consent.

While investigating respondent (“Jones”) for violating federal drug laws, FBI agents obtained a warrant from a federal judge in the District of Columbia authorizing them to covertly install a global positioning system (GPS) tracking device on Jones’ vehicle within 10 days and to monitor the device only in the District of Columbia for up to 90 days. Eleven days after the warrant issued, the agents installed the device while the vehicle was in a public parking lot in Maryland. Using the device, which only provided the vehicle’s location, and visual surveillance, agents tracked the vehicle to a suspected stash house in Maryland where they recovered nearly 100 kilograms of powder cocaine, one kilogram of crack cocaine, $850,000 in cash, and drug-packing paraphernalia. Agents also recovered nearly $70,000 from the vehicle, and large quantities of cocaine, cash, firearms, and drug paraphernalia from Jones’ suspected customers.

Jones was convicted of the drug crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. The court of appeals reversed Jones’ conviction and held that agents’ use of the GPS device was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment that violated Jones’ reasonable expectation of privacy in his vehicle’s public movements over the course of a month because he had not exposed the totality of those movements to the public.

On appeal, the Government argues that the agents’ installation and monitoring of the GPS device was not a Fourth Amendment search because “a person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements from one place to another” since his movements are “knowingly exposed.”

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