Do Utah Police Need a Warrant to Follow Your Car?

Salt Lake City criminal lawyer

Police surveillance has evolved greatly as technology has exploded over the last few decades, but sometimes officers also stick to the old tried and true methods of the past. For example, while police now have the ability to attach tiny GPS tracking devices to suspects’ cars to track their movements, this does not mean they have abandoned the old-school practice of physically tailing your car, often in an unmarked police vehicle. This has caused confusion about whether they need a warrant to follow you that way. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC explain when a warrant is needed to track your car’s movements and what to do if you feel or discover you are being tailed.

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. If you entered private property such as a ranch, for example, the police could not continue to tail you without a search warrant for the private property you entered, unless they believed you were an emergent 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.

Police often use officers in plain clothes and unmarked vehicles to tail suspects and track their movements. If you suspect you are being tailed, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC. We can reach out to the local police and try to 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 therefore a warrant is required to do so. Prior to this ruling, there was a great amount of confusion throughout the country around this subject as several lower courts had issued contradictory rulings. Since the Supreme Court decision, however, 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 actually 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 place the tracker outside of D.C. By the time the officers got around to attaching 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 than a warrantless search, and all evidence obtained as a result of 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 be able to 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.

Challenging Warrantless Tracking of Your Vehicle

If you notice a tracking device on your vehicle, you should call an experienced criminal defense attorney like those at Overson Law, PLLC right away. 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 as a result of the warrantless tracking. Under the “fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine,” any such evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search cannot be used against you in a criminal proceeding.

Even if a warrant was issued, it is possible that it has defects like the one in the U.S. v. Jones case. If the warrant was granted based on false information from the police, if it had 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 are permitted to tail you on public roads, but they are not permitted to use some sort of technology like a GPS tracking device to do their jobs for them without first obtaining a warrant. At Overson Law, PLLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys have successfully suppressed evidence obtained as a result of these illegal searches across the state of Utah. We will leave no stone unturned in fighting for your civil liberties to be protected. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.

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