GPS Tracking Devices and the 4th Amendment

A GPS tracking device can provide great peace of mind if you install one on your teenage son or daughter’s car. However, you have no peace of mind if a police officer installs one on your car without your knowledge and without first obtaining a warrant. The Supreme Court of Arizona dealt with this issue in State v. Jean (Jan. 3, 2018) which is found here

 David Velez-Colon and defendant Jean shared the driving of a commercial tractor-trailer from Georgia to Arizona. See Id., ¶ 2. Arizona DPS officers in Phoenix became suspicious and learned that the trailer was reported stolen and the truck was registered to Velez-Colon. See Id. Suspecting that the vehicle was being used to transport drugs, DPS officers installed a GPS tracking device on the truck without obtaining a warrant. See Id. The officers monitored the truck’s movements with GPS for about thirty-one hours over three days. See Id., ¶ 3. Assisted by the GPS location data, a DPS officer stopped the vehicle around 4:00 a.m. on February 19 after it reentered Arizona. Id., ¶ 4. Officers searched the trailer and found 2140 pounds of marijuana. See Id.

The trial court denied Jean’s motion to suppress, reasoning that Jean, as a passenger, did not have standing to object to the State’s use of the GPS tracking device on the truck owned by Velez-Colon. Id., ¶ 6.  Jean was found guilty and sentenced to ten years in prison. See Id. The Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed. See Id., ¶ 7.

The Supreme Court of Arizona granted review to determine whether the warrantless GPS tracking constituted a search and violated Jean’s rights under the Fourth Amendment, and if so, whether the evidence gathered there from should be excluded. See Id., ¶ 8.

The Court held that a passenger could challenge the GPS monitoring as a search and that the duration of the government’s GPS monitoring did not determine whether it constituted a search. See Id., ¶¶ 32, 34, 37. In the Court’s words:


“By holding that Jean, like the owner Velez-Colon, can challenge the GPS monitoring as a search, we reaffirm the protections embodied in the Fourth Amendment against warrantless government surveillance. Requiring such searches generally to be supported by a warrant based on probable cause does not unduly burden the government’s interests, particularly because this requirement already applies with respect to the person who owns or lawfully possesses the vehicle. Treating such surveillance as a search as to passengers protects the privacy interests of both those who own or possess the vehicle and those who travel with them. CfUnited States vU.SDistrict Court (Keith), 407 U.S. 297, 314-15, 321 (1972) (balancing governmental and privacy interests in concluding, categorically, that surveillance for domestic security purposes should be subject to “the customary Fourth Amendment requirement of judicial approval prior to initiation of a search or surveillance”). . . “ Id., ¶ 37. Originally found on

If you or a loved one is charged with a crime where GPS monitoring is part of the evidence, you need an experienced attorney to help you. Criminal Attorney Gary Rohlwing has over three decades of experience as a prosecutor and private defense lawyer. Call him today for a free initial consultation.

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