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Shrinking Fourth Amendment? Court Hears U.S. v. Jones on Nov. 8

By Robyn Hagan Cain on November 04, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Previously this week, we discussed the upcoming Supreme Court arguments in Smith v. Cain. We're interested to see if a ruling in this case could actually change practices in the Orleans Parish District Attorney's office, when two prior Supreme Court opinions directed to the same office didn't. Most Court-watchers, however, are anxiously awaiting arguments in U.S. v. Jones, the warrantless GPS tracking case.

In Tuesday's oral arguments, Smith v. Cain is the bridesmaid, and U.S. v. Jones is the jurisprudential bride.

In Jones, the Supreme Court's decision will resolve a conflict between the D.C. and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeal. The D.C. Circuit has ruled that police need a warrant to monitor a suspect using a GPS device, while the Ninth Circuit held that the police didn't violate a suspect's rights by placing a GPS tracker on his car without a warrant.

A number of legal heavy-hitters have come out in opposition to warrantless GPS tracking: the ACLU, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and Cato Institute are just 3 of the 12 groups that submitted amicus briefs in support of respondent Antoine Jones. Meanwhile, the Center on the Administration of Criminal Law has submitted a brief on the government's behalf.

One particularly notable voice in the debate is Roger Easton, the principal inventor of the Global Positioning System (GPS). Easton has joined the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology last week in urging the Court to reject warrantless GPS tracking.

If the Court sides with the Ninth Circuit, and decides that warrantless GPS tracking does not violate the Fourth Amendment, the case could have widespread implications as we develop more sophisticated technology. How do you think the Court should rule? Is a shrinking Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy the price we pay for our gadgets?

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