The Seventeenth Annual Supreme Court Review Conference

October 27, 2012

Professor Arthur Leavens

Western New England University School of Law

GPS Tracking and the Fourth Amendment



United States v. Jones,132 S. Ct. 945 (January 23, 2012). The Supreme Court held that by attaching a GPS tracking device to an automobile and then monitoring the automobile's movements for four weeks, police officer conducted a Fourth Amendment "search," which search was unlawful because it was not authorized by a valid warrant. The case is the latest in a long string of cases in which the Court has struggled to apply the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures to investigative techniques which, often due to technology, do not correspond with traditional, tangible notions of searches and seizures. For almost a half century, the Court has resolved this dilemma by applying the so-called Katz test, which asks whether a purported search invades what society accepts as a "reasonable expectation of privacy." If the answer is"yes," it constitutes a Fourth Amendment search; if "no," it does not. While the nine justices in Jones were unanimous as to the result, that is, that the officrs' installation and monitoring of the GPS device was a search, the Court's three opinions revealed sharp differences concerning the application of this reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test in reaching this result, at least one justice suggesting that it is time to reconsider this approach to measuring the reach of the Fourth Amendment.


Sponsored by the Law School's Institute for Legislative and Governmental Affairs


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