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Third Circuit Rules Warrant Mandatory for Attaching GPS Trackers to Suspect Vehicles
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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued an important decision on Tuesday, holding that warrants are mandatory for attaching GPS trackers to cars of suspects. The court observed that “A GPS search extends the police intrusion well past the time it would normally take officers to enter a target vehicle, locate, extract, or examine the then-existing evidence.”


The Third Circuit also rejected the government’s argument that a GPS search qualifies for an exception in case of automobiles.

Government attorneys argued that if police officers were compelled to obtain a warrant and to have probable cause prior to carrying out a GPS search then officers would not be able to use GPS devices to gather the information required to establish probable cause. This, according to the government, “is often the most productive use of such devices.”

In the case of US v. Katzin that came before the Third Circuit, the law enforcement had used a magnetic GPS to track three brothers suspected of breaking into and committing burglaries in pharmacies. The police stopped the tracked car after the brothers allegedly robbed a RiteAid. Though the search turned up apparently incriminating evidence, the defendants argued the evidence was inadmissible as obtained illegally.

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The Third Circuit held the actions of the police as “highly disconcerting,” and held the defendants’ Fourth Amendment rights had been violated by GPS tracking without warrant.

Previously, a lower court had ruled similarly, and the Third Circuit upheld the lower court’s decision, with this being the first time an appeals court ruled on the contentious issue of GPS tracking of suspects.

Catherine Crump, ACLU attorney, said in a statement, “These protections are important because where people go reveals a great deal about them, from who their friends are, where they visit the doctor and where they choose to worship.” Catherine called the decision, “a victory for all Americans because it ensures that the police cannot use powerful tracking technology without court supervision ….”



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