The Supreme Court Left More Questions Than Answers In The GPS Car Case
Earlier this week a landmark case was decided by the United State Supreme Court. Most news reports just made a blanket statement about the Supreme Court 'ruling that it's unconstitutional to attach a GPS device to a car without a warrant.' However, the truth is not that simple. The Supreme Court ruling was so narrow that it left open a lot of questions that should be very important to people involved in the marijuana industry. The largest question of which is 'can cops attach a GPS device to your car if they do it in a public place?'
The recent court ruling dealt with a case where a GPS device was placed on the car while it was parked on private property. The Justices all agreed that since there was no valid warrant to do so, the act was unconstitutional. However, not all of the justices agreed on the reasoning behind it. Some Justices felt that it's unconstitutional only if the GPS device is attached on private property, while others felt the location of attachment is irrelevant; the act is always unconstitutional without a warrant. I have the entire ruling pasted below if you want to see which Justice thought what, and who lined up with who.
Some readers might be curious why I'm hammering home this point. It's because of the case of United States of America v. JUAN PINEDA-MORENO. I wrote about the case when it was being appealed, and I think that the recent ruling by the Supreme Court still leaves the possibility that it could happen again. Here is the summary I wrote back in early 201o:
"Essentially, three men went into a Home Depot in Medford, Oregon and bought an unusual amount of fertilizer, along with deer repellant and a few other items consistent with a large scale outdoor grow operation. A DEA agent was monitoring the Home Depot (scary), and after seeing the purchased items being loaded into a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee, he decided to follow the vehicle. After the men arrived at another store, the DEA agent attached a tracking device to the undercarriage of the vehicle.
By the end of the investigation, the DEA agents removed and replaced a tracking device on the vehicle no less than 7 times. Five of those times the vehicle was in a public area (parking lot or public road), however, two of the times the DEA agents went into the man’s driveway and placed a tracking device onto his vehicle. At the time, the vehicle was parked just feet from the owner’s front door. In the end, the DEA followed the men to their outdoor grow operation, and I think you can assume what happened next. After the Jeep owner appealed his conviction, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his conviction.
And as far as monitoring movements, the court points to the case of US v. Knotts, which stated that it was legal to use a ‘beeper’ to track a vehicle. In that case, the US Supreme Court pointed out that tracking via an electronic device is no different than if an agent simply followed the car around. When you are driving on public streets, you have no expectation of privacy."
Since the recent Supreme Court Ruling left this question open, the lower court ruling is still binding in the 9th Circuit Court (Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Montana). I put the full opinion of the Circuit Court case below as well. Court opinions like the two below are important, because they could likely be used to justify future decisions that are more narrow. I don't know about readers, but I check under my car often. Call it paranoia, but I don't want anyone following me anywhere, at anytime. If you own a garden, you should be especially vigilant! As you read the opinions below (apologize ahead of time for the formatting!), you will realize that had the warrant in question been valid, or had it been placed onto the vehicle in a different location, things could have been very different in this case: