Warrant-less GPS tracking, and Fourth Amendment search rights violations, remains a hotly contested debate in courtrooms across the country. Dissension among judges seems to be the rule, and not the exception. Rulings continue to contradict one another. The latest example comes from a divided Baltimore federal appeals court. There is a potential ripple effect in the law enforcement community, and privacy rights hang in the balance.
This should seem like a case of deja vu in law enforcement circles. An important aspect to these cases is presumption of privacy when in the public domain. In order to expedite surveillance of a suspect in a gun and drug investigation, Baltimore police made the tactical decision to affix a GPS tracking device to the target vehicle. Installation occurred in a public parking lot, with the device being magnetically attached under the rear bumper of the vehicle.
The target of the investigation, Henry Stephens, of course challenged the validity of the evidence collected as a result of the GPS tracking device. The courts continue to skirt the issues of reasonable search and probable cause as justification in attaching a tracking device to target vehicles without a warrant.
Another important aspect to these cases is that they are, for the most part, being challenged at the state level. No concrete federal standard, and very little precedent, exists that dictates the rulings in these cases. There promises to be continued confusion as individual states adopt their own legislation governing the use of covert GPS tracking by law enforcement. And as GPS tracking technology continues to advance and evolve, one can only imagine that more of these cases will find their way to the courts.
We have more great articles in our archives on GPS technology. “Cutting-Edge GPS Tracking Systems.”