Warrantless GPS Tracking Case Decided

Third Circuit_GPS_TrackingYesterday was a big day for the world of GPS tracking and law enforcement. In Philadelphia, PA, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals decided the very first case addressing warrantless tracking since the Supreme Court’s split decision last year.

Miss the story last year? Well, it’s pretty simple. The Supreme Court ruled that affixing a GPS tracker on a suspected drug dealer’s vehicle was an obvious intrusion of privacy, but could not agree that a warrant was actually required. The evidence collected with the GPS tracker had to be thrown out, prompting a second trial for Antoine Jones, the drug dealer. The funny part is they actually did obtain a warrant at one point to affix the GPS tracker, but did so after the warrant had expired. Oh, and they put it on his wife’s vehicle. A lot of issues there!

The New Case

In the more recent case, Harry Katzin, an electrician, had a GPS tracker installed on his van after police believed he and his brothers were responsible for numerous pharmacy burglaries in Delaware, New Jersey, and Maryland in 2009 and 2010. Lawyers for the Justice Department felt that the police were going a bit too far in the case against Katzin. All they had was “reasonable suspicion,” which isn’t even enough to procure a warrant, so why should they be allowed to track his whereabouts with a GPS tracker, lawyers argued.

Judge Joseph A. Greenway, Jr. agreed, pointing out in the majority ruling that without probable cause, law enforcement was ignoring important privacy and private property laws that make the US tick. He went on to say that he does agree with GPS tracking in certain cases, under certain circumstances that simply were “not present in this case,” even without obtaining a warrant prior to its placement.

The Katzin Case

So what exactly happened? The FBI decided to place a GPS tracker on Katzin’s van back in December of 2010. They noted the van leaving Philly and followed it to a Rite Aid in the next town over. After the van left the Rite Aid parking lot, State Troopers pulled the van over and discovered items taken from the store. They arrested Katzin and his two brothers who happened to be traveling along with him.

With the Appeals Court’s ruling, they don’t have a case anymore. Any information gathered with the help of the GPS device becomes inadmissible. Now, the three men are able to walk free after robbing a pharmacy with the intent to distribute the stolen drugs. That’s a dangerous fact.

Just to be clear here: you can still affix a GPS tracker to any vehicle that you own. If you own a fleet of trucks, for example, any one of our fleet trackers will prove to be worthwhile. You just can’t place a tracker on a vehicle that you don’t own.

For obvious reasons, most people are torn over this case. Do you agree with the outcome of this case? Or do you feel that, sometimes, warrantless tracking is indeed the right choice?

1 reply
  1. Sherry Rich says:

    Letting criminals go free may be a dangerous fact if police ignore the law. Letting police ignore the law of the land seems even more dangerous. It’s not that hard to get a warrant.


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