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Author Topic: United States v. Jones  (Read 3368 times)

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Zafer Kaya

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United States v. Jones
« on: January 23, 2012, 08:10:27 PM »

Anyone got any thoughts on US v Jones?

I'm still trying to figure out what it all means.  I hate it when what seems like what should be a relatively simple decision actually ends up making things ten times murkier than they were before.

Zafer Kaya

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2012, 11:00:06 AM »

Okay, maybe you have to be a law nerd to care about the case but it involves whether the police can use GPS data from your car.  But the ruling is kind of juicy and fun.


It was a 9-0 decision.  Except four justices put forth one rationale for saying it was illegal.  Another four justices put forth an entirely different rationale.  And then Sotomeyer agreed with both sides but joined in the "majority" decision.

So technically it is a 9-0 decision that it was unconsitutional, but only a 5-4 decision as to why.  But in effect, it's really two 5 justice majority opinions as to why it is wrong.  So does this mean that future cases would have to meet BOTH the tests set forth by justices, only the one set forth by the majority, or is it still up in the air considering there is at best a weak majority consensus for either theory?

Butter

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2012, 11:58:24 AM »

Sounds confusing.  What were they using the data for?  Alibi check?
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va-vacious

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #3 on: January 24, 2012, 04:27:32 PM »

Technology is really changing the way that cases can be constructed and prosecuted.

Could using the GPS data be construed as self-incriminating? If so, then I could see why the justices would go against it.
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Dan

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2012, 08:21:31 PM »

Yeah, I think you need to spell out to us (me?) more details and specifics. I really don't follow law decisions with much (any) care.
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Ella Minnow Pea

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2012, 08:36:49 PM »

The majority opinion stated "The Government’s attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle,
and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment." (and thus requires a warrant to do)

The minority opinion stated "The Government usurped Jones’ property for the purpose of conducting surveillance on him, thereby invading privacy interests long afforded, and undoubtedly entitled to, Fourth Amendment protection."

The full decision

I like this decision much better than the ruling last week in a lower court that was the opposite decision.

I have no problem with surveillance cameras, but as your car is your own property, it shouldn't be tampered with unless a warrant has been issued.

Of course once Google combines all your data into one big database next month, they can just get a warrant for that, and they'd likely have everything about you.
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twentyshots

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2012, 09:40:19 PM »

your cell phone already is a GPS device (triangulation strangulation), or was that already mentioned?
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dirk

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #7 on: January 24, 2012, 09:57:42 PM »

I think the decision was correct for the simple reason that there is no reason they can't get a warrant. The post 9-11 idea that the government shouldn't need a warrant is just dumb and counter to everything that should be happening in the country.  The government gets something like 95% of the warrants they request.  Why should they not have to prove there is a reasonable cause for suspicion before the monitor someone?  Hell, it is even dumber in terrorism cases where they have 3 days after they start surveillance to get the warrant, so if it is an emergency, they can start surveillance and  ask for the warrant later. 
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Ella Minnow Pea

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #8 on: January 24, 2012, 10:13:52 PM »

What's even more bizarre in this case is that they had a warrant, but it expired before they placed the GPS device on the plantiff's car and collected the data.
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Zafer Kaya

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #9 on: January 25, 2012, 12:19:48 AM »

I am not sure if you actually need a warrant to install a GPS tracking device.  That is part of the problem.  And also highlights why media coverage of court cases sucks and cannot be trusted.

The government argued that a GPS tracking device did not constitute a "search."  The Supreme Court ruled that it did.  Which means that it is covered by the Fourth Amendment.  However, the fourth amendment merely covers UNREASONABLE search and seizure.  Because the Government did not raise the issue in a lower court and the lower court did not consider the issue of whether the search was reasonable, the S. Court considered that argument "forfeited."

I think this is a major potential problem because one of the best known exemptions from a warrant requirement is motor vehicles.  If the cops have probable cause to believe that there is contraband in the car, they can search it without a warrant.  Which seems to imply that if the cops think you've got drugs or illegal weapons in the car, they can still track you via GPS.  It would be a search, but a reasonable one.

The four other justices did not consider the use of GPS tracking a "search" at all.  They considered it a violation of the right to privacy, which is a court recognized "penumbra" right not explicitly in the Constitution.  So what those dirty activist judges did was to reinforce/expand a modern right not in the constitution.  The expansion is important because it extends your privacy right to electronic data instead of just physical intrusion into the body or private residence.  So it provides a lot more protection in some ways.

It's particularly interesting in that it extends what has become a bit of an S. Ct. pissing contest and gives insight into how this court will rule in the future.  The conservative justices now all tend to lean "originalist" (particularly Thomas, with Scalia a strong #2) meaning they interpret everything according to the supposed original intent and literal language of the constitution.  Because there is no right to privacy in the constitution, they don't want to recognize it.  Therefore they have to make this a "search" which I think gives much narrower protection.

Alito even takes a shot at Scalia and the originalists in his opinion by mocking the idea of the constitution's drafters back in 1788 thinking about a tiny constable clinging to the underside of a horse drawn carriage taking notes on where it goes.  Which is a justified zinger.  I'm actually kind of an originalist and I feel like the constitution has at this point been so stretched and twisted and expanded that it's almost meaningless.  It would be much better to rewrite it for modern times.  But of course no one is going to do that.  Scalia and Thomas are all righteous when they want to decline to recognize a right, but when they need to expand rights they fudge like madmen.

Sotomeyer seems to recognize both the need to expand the constitutional right to privacy AND the need to rethink the fourth amendment search and seizure rules as well as the link between the right to privacy and search and seizure.  So it's sort of a double layer of protection.  But because she's a one person opinion in this, it's hard to know how it all pans out.

But anyways, after all that the majority holding is very narrow and solves nothing.  Next time the government will just be smart enough to raise the reasonable search argument at trial.

dirk

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #10 on: January 25, 2012, 07:23:38 AM »

By ruling it a search and then against the government, didn't the court pretty much decide it was an unreasonable search?  If they had decided it was a reasonable search, they still would have sided with the government, because it would be constitutional.  I think their intention was to show that the warrant is what makes it a reasonable search and without the warrant it was an unreasonable search.
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Markalot

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #11 on: January 25, 2012, 09:48:14 AM »

Do you need a warrant to tail someone, observe someone, etc.  My knowledge comes from bad detective shows, so it must be sound, but it seems installing a GPS device is just a cost effective way to tail someone.
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Kwyjibo

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #12 on: January 25, 2012, 09:51:38 AM »

If you're a crippled former DEA agent it's a great way to find out where someone goes that you suspect of being a drug kingpin.
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Zafer Kaya

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #13 on: January 25, 2012, 10:17:25 AM »

By ruling it a search and then against the government, didn't the court pretty much decide it was an unreasonable search?  If they had decided it was a reasonable search, they still would have sided with the government, because it would be constitutional.  I think their intention was to show that the warrant is what makes it a reasonable search and without the warrant it was an unreasonable search.

No.  The court simply ruled it was a search, and at that point the government automatically lost.  They didn't let the government make the argument that the search was reasonable, and they explicitly stated they would not making a ruling on that issue.

I think they would have a hard time ruling the search was unreasonable, to be honest.  Traditionally, searches are judged based on the level of trespass/physical intrusion/invasion.  You can physically search a car (open the trunk, the glove box, search under the seats, etc.) without a warrant.  Simply placing a device on the car that gives its location is much less invasive.

Quote
Do you need a warrant to tail someone, observe someone, etc.  My knowledge comes from bad detective shows, so it must be sound, but it seems installing a GPS device is just a cost effective way to tail someone.

You do not need a warrant to tail someone if you have cause to believe there is something illegal in the car or something illegal is about to happen.  If you're going to tail a guy over a long period of time, then you would likely need a warrant.  And again, a GPS is less intrusive than tailing someone as all it does it give you a location.  It's not actually observing the person.

The difference between a GPS and a physical search and tailing someone is that you can really only do those things for a short time.  You search a guy's car or tail him to a location, it's over.  But with a GPS you can simply slap that on a car and monitor a person's movement for years.  I also think that when you are tailing a guy or searching a car you are looking specifically for something in the car or something about to happen in a car.  Whereas with the GPS, you are monitoring and gathering data on a person's activity.  It really has nothing to do with the car. 

Which is why I think the liberal justices were correct to ground it in privacy rights rather than deem it a "search."  When you put a GPS on a car, you're not really searching the car.

va_vacious's fifth amendment argument is also kind of interesting.  Oddly, that is the second time this week someone has made a similar fifth amendment argument to me.  A friend of mine (non-lawyer) was asking me how DNA tests don't violate the fifth amendment.  I actually think there is something to that.  Because at some point when the government has all of your DNA and monitors everything you do, then you are essentially testifying against yourself all the time... or at least it renders the fifth amendment moot as you never be asked to testify in court because they don't need to ask you if you were at the scene or if you did it, because they already know. 

I don't think the court will ever rule that that kind of thing squarely violates the fifth amendment, but I can see them using it as part of the stew to concoct a "mosaic" theory or as part of the penumbra in the right to privacy.

trixi

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Re: United States v. Jones
« Reply #14 on: January 25, 2012, 07:15:05 PM »

Just a random thought here....isn't placing a GPS on the car (I'm assuming this was done without the owner's knowledge, not being familiar with this case) similar to placing a bug in someone's house/workplace/whatever? 
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