• Search and Seizure
  • January 25, 2012 | Author: G. Ross Trindle
  • Law Firm: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Overview: In two separate decisions relating to search and seizure, the Supreme Court held that the warrantless use of a GPS device to track a suspect’s vehicle violates the Fourth Amendment, while entry into a suspect’s home - where there is an imminent threat of violence -- does not.

    Police Chief Training Point: Courts may not uphold seemingly logical extensions of currently allowable policy or practice. When it comes to search and seizure, the individual's expectation of privacy is not the determining factor. The warrantless use of a GPS device is still an illegal intrusion, even if the person had no expectation of privacy in the vehicle’s movement through public streets. However, the intrusion into a person’s home may be justified if there is an imminent threat of violence to police officers or others.

    Summary Analysis: In U.S. v. Jones, the Government used a GPS tracking device without a warrant to monitor the movement of a vehicle belonging to Jones, a suspected drug trafficker. It used the data to convict Jones of conspiracy to distribute cocaine. The appellate court reversed the conviction, finding the use of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s decision, explaining the reasonable expectation of privacy test was “added to,” not “substituted for” the common-law trespassory test in determining whether there has been an illegal search.

    In Ryburn v. Huff, police went to the home of a high school student who had allegedly threatened to “shoot up” the school and asked his mother if there were guns in the house. She abruptly went back inside the house without answering, at which point the officers entered the home without a warrant. The court ruled the warrantless entry was justified because, based on the facts at the time, there was a reasonable basis for fearing that violence was imminent.