Police have certain power when it comes to investigating possible crimes. There is no doubt about that, but there are boundaries for their power. In some cases, when there is not a clear boundary, the courts are asked to define one as the U.S. Supreme Court did this past Monday in a case about GPS tracking devices.
The case arose from a trial and conviction for drug crimes. The man charged in the case had been investigated with the assistance of a GPS tracking device placed on his vehicle without a warrant. The issue that the Supreme Court was set to hear involved whether or not those investigating him should have first obtained a warrant.
In a unanimous decision made on Monday, Jan. 23, the Supreme Court ruled that the prosecutors in the investigation had violated the suspect’s rights when they attached the tracking device on his car. They ruled that the Fourth Amendment’s protection from unreasonable searches and seizures were violated.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Antonin Scalia. “We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and it’s use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search,’” he wrote in the opinion.
Although in this instance, the court ruled that the defendant’s rights had been violated, the reasoning behind the decision was split 5-4. Scalia’s opinion did not solidify whether a warrant would be required in all cases. While the specific issue was decided, Scalia wrote that there was “no reason for rushing forward” in terms of further issues than the specific circumstances required.
Source: The Washington Post, “Supreme Court: Warrants needed in GPS tracking,” Robert Barnes, Jan. 23, 2012