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Supreme Court takes on GPS tracking case

In Pennsylvania and across the nation, citizens suspected of crimes are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. One of the core principles of the Fourth Amendment is the right of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. In practice, this means that law enforcement authorities cannot use illegally obtained evidence against people facing criminal charges.

Over the years, new technology has pushed the limits of what is an unreasonable search or seizure. Over the years, the Fourth Amendment needed to be applied to wire taps, e-mail interception, and searches of cell phones and computers. Now, the Supreme Court has agreed to take a case involving the use of a GPS tracking device without a warrant.

In the case, a man was under investigation for what authorities believed to be a cocaine distribution ring. During the investigation, police and FBI agents obtained a warrant to implement various surveillance measures, including a video camera, a wire intercept and the installation of a GPS tracking device on the suspect's Jeep Grand Cherokee.

However, the warrant gave authorities only 10 days to install the GPS device and specified that the device could be installed while it was parked in the District of Columbia. In violation of the terms of the warrant, authorities took 11 days and installed the GPS device while the Jeep was parked in Maryland.

With this device, authorities were able to track the suspect's movements 24 hours a day, and they eventually tracked the suspect to a purported stash house. When they raided the stash house, they found evidence of a drug conspiracy, which they used to convict the man. He was sentenced to life in prison and was fined $1 million.

The man appealed his conviction, and successfully argued that the installation of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the prolonged surveillance of the suspect required a warrant and authorities had installed the device without a warrant.

However, this ruling conflicts with other rulings from three other appeals courts. The government has appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has agreed to review the case, and it is expected to hear arguments on the matter in its next session, which lasts from October to June.

Source: Christian Science Monitor, "GPS tracking device: Supreme Court to consider its use in following suspects," Warren Richey, 6/27/2011

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