Friday, May 15, 2009

GPS Tracking Devices Present Legal Questions

Recent decisions from a couple of state supreme courts have raised the issue of whether a warrant is required to be obtained prior to secretly installing a GPS tracking device on a suspects vehicle. One case is out of New York. Scott Weaver had been suspected by local police of being involved in a string of burglaries in 2005. Police secretly installed a GPS tracking device on his vehicle and tracked his movements for 65 days. Weaver was convicted of robbing a store based partly on the GPS tracking device. The device showed weaver driving back and forth in front of the store several times prior to the robbery. Weaver appealed his conviction claiming that the tracking device was planted on his vehicle without a warrant thereby violating his Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The New York Court of Appeals agreed and overturned his conviction. In the majority opinion, the Chief Judge stated that a warrant was required to use this GPS tracking device because "the use of these powerful devices presents a significant and, to our minds, unacceptable risk of abuse."

However, another case out of Wisconsin came to a different conclusion. A man had been convicted of stalking charges. A secretly installed GPS tracking device secretly tracking his movements was used to convict him of the charges. The Wisconsin Court of Appeals found that the man's Fourth Amendment rights were not violated. But what is interesting about this decision is that the court stated that it was "more than a little troubled" by the lack of state and federal laws concerning the use of GPS tracking devices and urged the state legislature to look into coming up with laws and regulations.

Courts across the nation are split over the issue of whether a warrant is required prior to using a GPS device. At least 2 other states, Oregon and Washington have ruled that law enforcement officials must obtain a warrant prior to using a GPS device. But without any federal laws, or United States Supreme Court rulings, states will be left to decide these cases based on their own state constitutions.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense lawyers at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

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