Police need a warrant before attaching a GPS tracker to a suspect’s vehicle, says a U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruling reported by the Legal Intelligencer. A case involving three brothers who allegedly burglarized pharmacies was the first to present the Fourth Amendment question in the circuit since the U.S. Supreme Court decided United States v. Jones last year. A split three-judge panel upheld a trial judge’s decision to suppress all the evidence collected from the GPS-tracked van since it was gathered through a warrantless search.
The Third Circuit harkened back to the physical intrusion theory of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, which had been dominant before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1967 opinion in Katz v. United States that introduced the idea that the Fourth Amendment protects people instead of places. That decision spawned the privacy theory, which led the direction of Fourth Amendment jurisprudence for the next decades. “Under the physical intrusion theory of the Fourth Amendment, the police actions in this case—i.e., physical entry upon and occupation of an individual’s house or effects for purposes of ongoing GPS tracking—are highly disconcerting,” said Judge Joseph Greenaway “We thus have no hesitation in holding that the police must obtain a warrant prior to attaching a GPS device on a vehicle, thereby undertaking a search that the Supreme Court has compared to ‘a constable’s concealing himself in the target’s coach in order to track its movements.'”