Do Salt Lake City Police Need a Warrant to Follow Your Car?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

Before the rise of GPS tracking devices, police conducted most of their investigations out in the field. If they wanted to surveil someone, they would follow them from place to place as they drove around to try to get a sense of what they were doing and who they were seeing. Although in today’s world the police have the option of placing a tracking device on your vehicle to monitor your movements for them, many officer still use the old-fashioned art of tailing a suspect in an unmarked car. Because warrants are often required for tracking someone using new technology, some people are confused if tracking people by physically tailing them also requires a warrant. Below, our skilled Salt Lake City criminal defense lawyers explain when police need a warrant to track your movements and what to do to fight warrantless searches.

Warrant Requirements for Police Physically Tailing a Car in Salt Lake City

So long as they are doing so on public roads, police in Salt Lake City are permitted to tail a person’s car without obtaining a warrant from a judge. For example, if an officer wanted to get a better idea of the movements of someone suspected of trafficking drugs in Salt Lake City, the officer can tail that person as they drive around the city and make note of where they go and who they see. They cannot, however, enter private property without a permit unless they have reason to believe the person they are tailing is an imminent threat to public safety. So, if the person drives onto private farmland roads, the police will have to stop at the edge of the property and wait for the car to exit to resume their tail.

Police officers often appear in an unmarked car and plain clothes when conducting tailing operations. If you get the sense that you are being followed, you should call an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC right away. We can work to find out from the local or federal authorities if they are tailing you and if you are suspected of a crime.

Warrant Requirements for Police Using GPS Trackers in Salt Lake City

Prior to 2012, there was much confusion at the state and local levels about whether the use of a GPS tracking device constituted a search and thus required a warrant. Due to conflicting rulings in lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue in its landmark 2012 case U.S. v. Jones. In that case, the court issued a unanimous ruling that police officers must obtain a warrant before placing a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car to track their movements.

The specifics of the Jones case involved the efforts of the Washington, D.C. police to track the movements of a suspected drug trafficker named Antoine Jones. The D.C. police actually did apply for a warrant, which was granted by a judge. However, the warrant only permitted the device to be placed on the car in D.C. and set a specific date that it expired. By the time the D.C. police placed the tracker on Jones’ vehicle, it was in Maryland and the time granted for the warrant had run out. The court ruled that relying on an expired warrant is no different than relying on no warrant at all.

In many cars today, there is a built-in GPS system like OnStar. These systems often submit your location data to the company that owns them, and some police are requesting this data from companies to assist in investigations. However, at least in Utah, a warrant must be granted by a judge for the police to access these third-party records.

How to Fight Warrantless Tracking in Salt Lake City

If you locate a GPS device on your vehicle, you might be unsure if it was placed there by law enforcement or someone else. While your first instinct may be to rip the thing off and destroy it, the best thing you can do is to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC right away. In some places, police are charging people with theft for destroying a tracker placed on their car. The lawyer can reach out to the local and federal authorities to find out if the tracker is one of theirs and try to ascertain why they are tracking you.

Once you have been charged with a crime, your lawyer will work to find out if any tracking of your vehicle was used to obtain evidence of your movements. If so, the lawyer will request a copy of the warrant, and if no warrant is produced, the lawyer can work to get the case dismissed. The lawyer will file what is known as a motion to suppress. If a warrantless search occurred, a judge will grant such a motion and bar any evidence that was ascertained as a result of the illegal tracking from being used against you as part of a criminal case.

It is important to a remember that, as in U.S. v. Jones, sometimes even when a warrant is granted, it may not be valid for one reason or another. An experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC will challenge any flaws in the warrant or any use of the warrant beyond the scope granted or the expiration date listed. A motion to suppress can also be filed to exclude evidence obtained under faulty warrants.

If You Are Concerned About the Police Tracking Your Vehicle, Call Our Salt Lake City Defense Lawyers

Police are permitted to follow suspects around without a warrant. However, if they want to use GPS tracking devices to do their dirty work for them, they must obtain a valid warrant from a judge. At Overson Law, PLLC, our skilled criminal defense attorneys will work to get any evidence obtained as a result of a warrantless search or a search based on a faulty warrant barred from being used in a criminal case against you. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.

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