The Fourth Amendment in an Age of New Technologies: Circuits Split Over Warrantless Gps Tracking
69 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2011 Last revised: 22 Mar 2012
Date Written: November 18, 2010
On August 6, 2010, the District of Columbia Circuit Court held in United States v. Maynard that law enforcement agents’ use of a Global Positioning System (GPS) device to monitor the location of a car on public roads constitutes a Fourth Amendment search and seizure when conducted over a long period of time. Thus, the D.C. Circuit held that police must obtain a warrant before using GPS device to monitor vehicles.
The D.C. Circuit decision directly contradicts a recent decision in the Eight Circuit and a 2007 decision in the Seventh Circuit, respectively United States v. Marquez and United States v. Garcia. Additionally, last month the Ninth Circuit refused to re-hear a ruling upholding the warrantless use of GPS devices in United States v. Pineda-Moreno over the dissent of five judges.
The Circuit sets up a potentially landmark Supreme Court decision and the reexamination of United States v. Knotts which held that law enforcement agents’ use of a beeper device to aid the tracking of a suspect to his drug lab was not a search within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The D.C. Circuit refused to apply Knotts to law enforcement agents’ use of a GPS device, determining Knotts reserved the question at issue, while the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits found Knotts controlling.
This Comment will first examine the history of the Supreme Court’s Fourth Amendment landmark decisions, examining United States v. Katz, Kyllo v. United States, and Knotts. Second, this Comment will discuss the Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Circuits’ rulings that law enforcement agents use of a GPS tracking device does not require a warrant and the D.C. Circuit’s contradictory ruling that requires a warrant.
Third, this Comment will analyze the current state of the law, determining that while Knotts is distinguishable, the Court must decide whether law enforcement agents’ use of a GPS tracking device requires a warrant within the framework handed down in Knotts. This Comment will especially focus on the D.C. Circuit’s contrasting decision in United States v. Maynard and its potential to reshape Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.
Fourth, this Comment will argue that under the Knotts framework, the Supreme Court should rule that the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device to track a suspect’s movements outside his home does not constitute a “search” or “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, and examine the potential impact of the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the flawed reasoning in Maynard.
In conclusion, this Comment will emphasize the magnitude of the potential Supreme Court decision and analyze its effects on law enforcement as well as individual privacy.
Keywords: Fourth Amendment, Warrant, Warrantless, GPS, Tracking, Global Positioning System, Search, Seizure, Circuit Split, History, Knotts, Katz, Beeper, United States v. Jones
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