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

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

As police have accelerated the use of technology to help them solve crimes, citizens have started to worry about the potential for this technology to violate their civil liberties. It used to be that the only way for a police officer to follow you was to actually get into their patrol car or an unmarked car and physically follow you around. The last two decades, however, have seen a huge increase in the use of GPS trackers placed on suspect’s vehicles by officers to track where they are going and who they are seeing. Many people may question whether the police are allowed to do this without first obtaining a warrant. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC explain when the police are required to get a warrant to track your car and what you should do if you think you have been subjected to a warrantless search.

Warrantless Tracking Devices on Cars in Salt Lake City

For many years, there was substantial confusion at the state and local levels about whether or not officers were required to get a warrant before placing a GPS tracker on a suspect’s car. Due to conflicting rulings in the lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the issue in the seminal 2010 case U.S. v. Jones. A unanimous court ruled that that placing a tracker on a suspect’s vehicle constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. Therefore, the court found that police must have a valid warrant in order to place such a device and use the evidence derived from such a search against the suspect.

In the Jones case, the police were interested in tracking the movements of Antoine Jones, a suspected drug trafficker in the Washington, D.C. area. They actually did apply for a warrant, but the warrant was only for tracking Jones within the borders of D.C. and was only valid for a certain amount of time before it expired. By the time that the police got around to placing the tracker on Jones’ Jeep, it was already in Maryland and the time for the warrant had run out. Thus, even though they had been granted a warrant, at that point they were conducting a warrantless search.

One further issue that has arisen is what to do if you find a GPS tracking device on your car. You may have no idea if this device was placed by local or federal law enforcement, a private investigator, or someone else. Your instinct might be to remove the device and smash it up. However, in some places throughout the country, including a high-profile case in Indiana, police had actually charged suspects with theft for removing or destroying the tracking device they placed on their vehicle.

The best thing you can do if you come across a tracking device on your car is to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC.  Our attorneys can reach out to local and federal law enforcement to find out if the device is on of theirs, and if it is, we can try to get a sense of why they are tracking you. We can also ensure that the device was placed with a valid warrant. If it turns out the device was not from law enforcement, we can advise you how to deal with this breach of your privacy by a fellow citizen.

Other Ways the Police Can Track a Vehicle in Salt Lake City

It is important to keep in mind that, with advances in technology, the police do not necessarily need to place an actual tracker on your car to track the movements of your vehicle anymore. Many times, the police or federal agents will be able to track you through a GPS system that is already hooked up to your vehicle, such as OnStar. However, the police must get a warrant before accessing the GPS information stored with these third-party providers. One thing that the police do not have to get a warrant for, however, is simply following your car around to see where you. Police officers, even in unmarked cars, are permitted to track your movements from place to place by physically following you around public roads without running afoul of your Fourth Amendment protections.

How to Challenge a Warrantless Tracking of Your Vehicle in Salt Lake City

An experienced Salt Lake City illegal search and seizure attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC will be able to help you determine next steps once you have been charged with a crime after an investigation using a GPS tracking device. The first thing your lawyer will ask for is a copy of the warrant. If there is no warrant, the lawyer will immediately work to file what is known as a motion to suppress. Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” any evidence obtained without a warrant cannot be used against you at a future criminal proceeding, including any evidence of your movements and meetings with others obtained as a result of an illegally placed GPS tracker.

Even if a warrant was granted, the police cannot exceed the scope of that warrant, as demonstrated in U.S. v. Jones. A skilled criminal defense lawyer will work to find any flaws in the application made for the warrant, such as officers making untruthful claims to prove probable cause. If the use of the warrant extended beyond its geographical and temporal boundaries, any evidence obtained beyond the scope of what they were permitted to track can also be excluded through the use of a motion to suppress.

If You Are Concerned About Law Enforcement Tracking Your Car, Call Our Salt Lake City Criminal Defense Lawyers Today

While the police are permitted to physically follow your vehicle around public roads and byways, they cannot place a tracking device on your car or access information about your GPS device without a valid warrant issued by a judge. At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys have successfully fought against warrantless tracking of our clients’ vehicles in Salt Lake City and across the state of Utah. We will file a motion to suppress any evidence against you obtained as a result of illegal searches. Call us today at (801) 758-2287 for a free consultation.

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