United States v. Jones

Summarized by:

  • Court: United States Supreme Court
  • Area(s) of Law: Criminal Procedure
  • Date Filed: January 23, 2012
  • Case #: 10-1259
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court and was joined by Roberts, C.J., and Kennedy, Thomas, and Sotomayor, JJ. Sotomayor, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment which was joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan, JJ.
  • Full Text Opinion

The Government conducted a 4th Amendment search when it physically occupied private property by installing a GPS device on a vehicle and used that device to monitor the vehicle's movements.

While investigating respondent Jones for violations of 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 on the vehicle’s underbody while it 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 holding that use of the GPS device was a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment because the agents had 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.

The Supreme Court refused to consider whether Jones had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in the underbody of the vehicle and explained that because the reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test from Katz was an addition to, and not a substitute for, the test for common-law trespass as explained in Entick v. Carrington, the applicable standard on these facts was whether the Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. The Court affirmed the court of appeals and held the government’s attachment of the GPS device, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, was a search because the vehicle was an “effect” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and that by attaching the GPS tracking device to Jones’ vehicle, the officers encroached on a constitutionally protected area.

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