The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens
from "…unreasonable searches…" and for years the
Supreme Court has produced a large amount of case law interpreting that
protection. For years courts have deemed searches unreasonable if the
subject of the search had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the place
searched. For the most part a search is reasonable if a proper search
warrant is obtained through a showing of probable cause. Last year the
United States Supreme Court changed it's view on the Fourth Amendment
when it issued its opinion in
United States v. Jones, 131 S.Ct. 3064 (2011). In
Jones the Court discussed the reasonableness of a tracking device which was
attached to the bottom of defendant Jones's car. The device was eventually
instrumental in the arrest and conviction of Jones. Jones then challenged
the tracking device on appeal arguing that when law enforcement placed
the device on his vehicle they trespassed upon his personal property.
The United States Supreme Court agreed. The Court held that the trespass
on Jones property that took place when law enforcement touched his car
violated his reasonable expectation of privacy. This ruling began to change
the landscape of Fourth Amendment protections by adding this trespassing
standard to the reasonable expectation of privacy standard which we have
grown accustomed to.
With cell phones with GPS capabilities becoming more and more common, law
enforcement have begun tracking the movements of suspects via their cell
phones. This practice has been questioned lately. Police are tracking
suspects through their phones without obtaining a warrant. This practice
is seen by many as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Many believe that
we have an expectation of privacy in our location. An argument can be
made that we decide who we let know our whereabouts, because our location
is private. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit,
ruled on the issue of cell phone tracking in August of 2012.
United States of America v. Melvin Skinner, an appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District
of Tennessee was decided and filed on August 14, 2012. Melvin Skinner,
Drug Dealer of Knoxville Tennessee was convicted, in part because law enforcement
was able to track his whereabouts via his cell phone. Authorities tracked
Skinner from Nashville to California, eventually arresting him in Texas
where Skinner was driving a motor home containing more than 1,100 pounds
of marijuana. Did police violate Skinner's rights by tracking him
via his cell phone? The Sixth Circuit says NO. The Court reasoned that
because Skinner published his location via his cell phone to his cellular
provider, he had no reasonable expectation of privacy in his GPS signal.
It is not yet clear whether or not Skinner will appeal his case to the
United States Supreme Court.
If you believe your movements are being tracked by law enforcement or if
you have reason to believe you are the subject of a criminal investigation,
it is important that you consult with an experienced criminal defense
attorney to ensure your rights are not being violated. To discuss your
Fourth Amendment rights or the facts of your specific case, please feel free to
contact The Bowlin Law Firm today.