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United States v. Jones: D.C. GPS Case To Test Fourth Amendment Rights

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 11/07/2011 9:36 am Updated: 01/07/2012 4:12 am

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday will hear arguments in a District of Columbia case involving police use of a global positioning system device to track a suspected drug dealer. The issue: Does the use of a GPS tracking device without a warrant -- and without the suspect's consent -- violate a suspect's Fourth Amendment rights?

The case is United States v. Jones. The FBI placed a GPS device on a suspect's car -- a Jeep belonging to D.C. nightclub owner Antoine Jones -- and used it to track the car for a month, without a warrant. (In fact, a federal judge had authorized the use of the GPS device, but the device wasn't installed until a day after the warrant expired.)

In 2008, after being re-tried on drug charges -- his first trial ended in a mistrial -- Jones was convicted to life in prison for conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and 50 or more grams of cocaine base. (The details of how Jones purportedly used an elaborate ticketing system at his nightclub to distribute cocaine, described in the case's various briefs and other filings, makes for fascinating reading.) The D.C. Court of Appeals threw out the conviction in 2010, finding that the use of the GPS device to track Jones's movements 24 hours a day, over the course of 28 days, violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

The Justice Department argues that the Court of Appeals got it wrong -- that Jones had no "privacy interest" in his car's movements on public streets. Civil liberties groups, privacy advocates, free market think tanks, religious groups and gun owners have filed amicus briefs supporting Jones' case.

This isn't Jones' first time being at the center of some legal controversy. His failure to disclose felony convictions on an application for a D.C. liquor license led to calls for reforms to the D.C. liquor licensing system.

RELATED VIDEO: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, speaking on changing cultural expectations of privacy regarding new technologies and how judicial applications of the Fourth Amendment have changed over time to reflect these expectations. The speech was delivered at the Cato Institute's Constitution Day Conference on Sept. 15, 2011.

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