Tracking The Fourth Amendment
The protection afforded against unreasonable search and seizure by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is so important that we included a version of it in the NMA’s Motorist Bill of Rights:
Freedom from unreasonable search and seizure and the guarantee that all traffic stops will be based on probable cause.
Two years ago, Jim Baxter lamented the deterioration of our rights against being stopped or having property seized without law enforcement meeting a meaningful standard for “probable cause.” Roadside stops, whether under the pretense of an alleged traffic violation or through organized roadblocks checking for DUI (or unfastened seat belts, or . . .), have increasingly made warrantless searches of drivers, passengers, and vehicles fair game.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit handed down an interesting decision earlier this month that bolsters the Fourth Amendment. In a case where federal agents, without a search warrant, attached a GPS tracking device to the vehicle of an unknowing suspect, the federal appeals court reversed the conviction of that suspect.
Stephen Leckar, a lawyer who worked on the appeal said that the ruling “recognizes the Fourth Amendment’s continued significance in promoting privacy in a high-tech age.” He added, “The decision simply tells law enforcement agents that they need a judge’s decision before trespassing on a person’s car and attaching a device that tracks and records him or her relentlessly over time and space.”
But not so fast. The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals twice rejected a similar appeal earlier this year, ruling that law enforcement can secretly place a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle without needing a court-issued warrant. The decision applies to those living in the nine western states under the Ninth Circuit Court’s jurisdiction.
It will probably be up to the U.S. Supreme Court to eventually sort out this issue. In the meantime, there is no reason yet to amend Jim Baxter’s 2008 editorial about the Fourth Amendment.
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