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Pre-Jones Warrantless GPS Search Falls Under 'Good Faith' Exception

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

In a case that will undoubtedly have an effect nationwide, the Second Circuit ruled on Friday that the government's warrantless GPS search of three defendants fell within the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule.

Cases like this one are making their way through the courts all over the country as defendants contest the use of GPS tracking devices, without a warrant, after the Supreme Court's recent holding in United States v. Jones.

Here, three defendants moved to suppress evidence collected from the use of a GPS device, which was used without a search warrant. The district court denied the motion, defendants were convicted, and this appeal followed.

Pre-Jones GPS Searches

Before the High Court decided Jones, the Supreme Court precedent in United States v. Knotts and United States v. Karo was the applicable law. Under Knotts, the Supreme Court held that where a beeper was used to track a car, "[a] person traveling in an automobile on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements." In Karo, on the other hand, since the beeper was used to track defendants in a private residence, where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy, the evidence was properly suppressed.

The Effect of Jones

In Jones, the Supreme Court recently held that the "installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a 'search.'" However, the Court did not determine whether warrantless use of GPS is permissible where there is a reasonable suspicion or probable cause to search.

Here, because the government's conduct took place before Jones, the Second Circuit -- quoting the Supreme Court -- noted that the Government was acting based on "objectively reasonable reliance on binding judicial precedent." Finding that the Government's conduct fell within the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule, the Second Circuit found that the district court properly denied the defendants' motion to suppress.


While the First and Second Circuits skirted around the issue, the Third Circuit is the only Circuit to have addressed this issue head-on, holding that law enforcement agents could have, and should have, first obtained a warrant before applying the "slap-on" GPS device.

Though the Second and First Circuits declined to actually address whether a warrantless GPS search is reasonable, and therefore constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, when based on reasonable suspicion or probable cause, the Second Circuit did concede that "post-Jones, the landscape has changed, and law enforcement will need to change its approach accordingly."

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