Third Circuit Requires Warrant for GPS Tracking by Law Enforcement


By: Brian Dempsey 
Last year, the Supreme Court addressed the increasingly common use of GPS tracking devices by law enforcement agencies.  By covertly attaching a GPS device to a suspect’s vehicle, officers can continually monitor the suspect’s movements.  In United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court held that the installation of a GPS tracking device on a private vehicle constitutes a “search” which is subject to Fourth Amendment scrutiny.  Drawing from traditional Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, the Court characterized the placement of a GPS device on a vehicle as an unauthorized trespass: “It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.”
In a decision handed down last week, the Third Circuit extended United States v. Jones and held that police must obtain a warrant based on probable cause in order to install a GPS device on a private vehicle.  United States v. Katzin, 12-2548, 2013 WL 5716367 (3d Cir. Oct. 22, 2013).  Although the Third Circuit is the first federal appellate court to explicitly apply the warrant requirement to this practice, this result is a logical extension of Jones and it is likely that other circuits will follow suit.