Police surveillance has evolved as technology has exploded over the last few decades, but sometimes officers stick to the old tried and true methods of the past. For example, while police now can attach tiny GPS tracking devices to suspects’ cars to track their movements, they have not abandoned the old-school practice of physically tailing your car.
Generally, warrants are not required for just following and observing. When in public spaces, the police can often skip warrants because people do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy. However, there are limits on when and where the police can follow you. Private property is usually off-limits unless there is a warrant. The police might also face backlash if they are following drivers for no reason or as a means of intimidation.
Our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC understand when a warrant is needed to track your car’s movements and what to do if you discover you are being tailed. If you believe the police have followed you, speak with our Utah criminal defense attorneys today. Call us at (801) 758-2287 for a free case review.
Can a Cop Follow You Home for No Reason?
Generally, the police can follow your car for any reason as long as they follow you on public roads and highways. Once you enter private property, the police usually must stop following. Roads are public places, which means that you do not have an expectation of privacy when driving anywhere. As long as you are not being stopped or detained by the police, there is not much you can do to stop them from following you.
However, you might have a case against the police if they truly follow you for no reason. The police have a lot of authority and discretion when it comes to investigations. Following citizens on the roads and highways of Utah does not require a warrant or special permission. However, the actions of the police might become a bit suspicious or inappropriate if there is truly no reason for tailing someone.
A driver might have a case for harassment if the police will not leave them alone. There have also been cases of police misconduct where the police follow a driver as a way to intimidate them based on race or some other aspect of the person. If you believe the police are following you when they do not have a good reason to do so, talk to our Layton criminal defense attorneys for help. We can figure out if you are under investigation or if the police are behaving inappropriately.
Why Would a Cop Follow You Home?
The cops could have a number of reasons for following you home. The police do not typically do things like follow private citizens while driving for no reason at all. If you notice the police have been following for a few days or longer, something might be wrong. Our Utah criminal defense attorneys can help you protect yourself before the police take further action against you.
The cops will sometimes follow people based on a gut feeling, hunch, or instinct. A police officer might have some suspicion that is not strong enough to warrant a stop, so they tail you until they see something they can use to pull you over. For example, if the police see a car making jerky movements, they might follow that car for a bit and watch because they fear the driver might be intoxicated. If they notice other signs of intoxication, they can execute a stop. Otherwise, the jerky movements from earlier might be from the driver spilling hot coffee in their lap or something else mundane and perfectly legal.
Other times, the police follow you because of a misunderstanding. Your car might match the description of another car involved in a crime. The police might follow you until they are sure your car is the one they are looking for or not. In such circumstances, you might be stopped and questioned, but the cops tend to quickly realize their mistake and will likely let you go. Other times, they mistakenly arrest drivers because their cars matched a vehicle description, creating a huge problem.
Still, in other circumstances, the police are tailing you because they are actively investigating you. Perhaps you have already been arrested and released, or maybe you have had some other confrontation with law enforcement. If the police suspect you of criminal activity, they need evidence and sufficient probable cause before they can make an arrest. The police often try to gather more evidence by following suspects and tracking their whereabouts. If you suspect this is the case, call our Orem criminal defense attorneys immediately.
How Long Can the Police Follow You?
As long as you are driving on public highways and roads, the police, or anyone else for that matter, can follow for however long they want. Drivers do not have any expectation of privacy when driving on public roads. You could be followed for a few minutes or even a few hours. However, if the police are following you because you are under investigation, the police are likely to be discreet. Being followed for hours on end is a bit unusual, but being followed on your daily commute to work or around town while running errands is certainly possible.
While law enforcement officers can follow you however long they want on public roads, they cannot follow you into private spaces. For example, suppose you turn off the main public road onto a long, private driveway heading toward private property. The police cannot follow you down that driveway. The police must also remain within their own jurisdiction when following you. If you end up driving over state lines, a Utah State Trooper would have no authority to pull you over anymore. Speak with our Provo criminal defense lawyers about your situation today. If you are being followed, we need to prepare for an inevitable confrontation with law enforcement.
Can Undercover Cops Follow You?
Undercover cops are allowed to follow you just like any other officer in a marked vehicle. In fact, being followed by an undercover police officer might be more likely when a driver is being actively investigated by law enforcement. During an investigation, the police might not want to tip off the suspect that they are nearby and watching. An undercover officer might be deployed to tail you for a bit and see if you do anything suspicious or arrest-worthy.
While undercover cops are permitted to follow a driver on public roads and highways, they are restricted from following drivers onto private roads or property. Additionally, an undercover cop is likely engaged in a criminal investigation, and anything beyond following and watching you might require a warrant or other special permissions or circumstances. If an undercover officer has been following you, speak with our Park City criminal defense attorneys about your options.
Warrants Not Required for Tailing Vehicles in Utah
The police are not required to get a warrant to physically tail your vehicle in the state of Utah, so long as you are traveling on public roads. Suppose you entered private property such as a ranch, for example. In that case, the police could not continue to tail you without a search warrant for the private property you entered unless they believed you were an immediate threat to public safety. They could, however, wait outside the ranch and keep following you after that as you go from place to place, getting a pretty good idea of what you are up to.
Law enforcement often uses officers in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles to tail suspects and track their movements. If you suspect you are being tailed, contact our experienced Utah criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC. We can reach out to the local police and figure out if an investigation against you is underway and why.
Warrant Required for Placing Tracking Device on Your Vehicle in Utah
In the seminal 2012 United States Supreme Court case titled U.S v. Jones, a unanimous court ruled that attaching a GPS tracker to a suspect’s car is a search, and a warrant is required to do so. Before this ruling, there was much confusion throughout the country around this subject as several lower courts had issued contradictory rulings. However, since the Supreme Court decision, it is clear that law enforcement officers in all states, including Utah, are required to get a warrant before they attach a tracking device to a suspect’s car.
In U.S v. Jones, the Washington D.C. police department was looking to track the movements of a suspected drug trafficker named Antoine Jones. The D.C police did apply for a warrant to place a tracker on Jones’ Jeep Grand Cherokee, which was granted. However, the judge set an expiration date for the surveillance and did not give officers the authority to use the tracker outside of D.C. By the time the officers attached the tracker to Jones’ vehicle, the warrant had expired, and the Jeep was located in Maryland. The court ruled that because the warrant was not valid, this was no different from a warrantless search, and all evidence obtained from the tracking device must be excluded.
One thing to note is that, with the rise of modern technology, the police have other ways of tracking your vehicle aside from physically placing a tracking device on your car. They may access data from a built-in GPS system like OnStar from the third-party company that tracks such data. However, at least in the state of Utah, the police are required to obtain a warrant before accessing this data in the same way they would have to for physically placing a device on your car. Call our Utah criminal defense attorneys if you believe you are being tracked.
Challenging Warrantless Tracking of Your Vehicle
If you notice a tracking device on your vehicle, you should call an experienced Murray criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC. The lawyer can then reach out to local law enforcement and find out if it is one of theirs. If it is, the lawyer can try to ascertain why they are tracking you. Removing the device yourself or destroying it could result in further charges from law enforcement, so it is always best to have an attorney handle such a situation.
Once charges have been filed against you based on the use of a GPS car tracker to monitor your movements, your attorney will request a copy of the warrant. If no warrant exists, an experienced illegal search and seizure lawyer like those at Overson Law, PLLC will move right away to get the case dismissed. They will file what is known as a “motion to suppress” any evidence obtained from the warrantless tracking. Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” any such evidence obtained from an illegal search cannot be used against you in a criminal proceeding.
Even if a warrant was issued, it might have defects like the one in the U.S. v. Jones case. If the warrant was granted based on false information from the police, expired by the time of the tracking, or if the tracking exceeded the scope of the warrant in any way, your attorney can similarly file a motion to suppress any evidence obtained outside the scope of the warrant’s authority.
If You Believe Your Vehicle Has Been Tracked, Call Our Utah Criminal Defense Attorneys Today
Police can tail you on public roads, but they cannot use technology like a GPS tracking device without first obtaining a warrant. At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced Ogden criminal defense attorneys have successfully suppressed evidence obtained because of these illegal searches. For a free initial case evaluation, call us at (801) 758-2287.