Do Utah Police Need a Warrant to Put a Tracker on Your Car?

Many of us use our cars to get around from place to place on a daily basis. If someone were to be tracking everywhere our cars go, they would have a pretty good idea of what we have been up to and where we have been. In light of this, over the last decades police have really begun to amp up the use of GPS tracking devices placed on cars of criminal suspects to determine where they are going and who they are seeing. Many people wonder if it is permissible for the police to place such a tracker on their car without a warrant. Below, our experienced Salt Lake City criminal defense attorneys at Overson & Bugden explain how and when the police are permitted to track your vehicle’s movements and what you should do if you find such a tracker on your car.

Warrant Required to Place a Tracker on a Car in Utah

Police in Utah cannot place a GPS tracker on your car unless they have been granted a warrant by a judge. This is the case in all 50 states of the union ever since the United States Supreme Court handed down its seminal ruling in the 2010 case U.S. v Jones. In that case, the Washington D.C. police suspected an individual named Antoine Jones of drug trafficking. They applied for a warrant to place a GPS tracker on Jones’ car and the warrant was granted. However, the warrant specified geographical and temporal limits to the type of tracking the police were permitted to do.

By the time the police got around to installing the tracking device on Jones’ Jeep Grand Cherokee, the car was in Maryland, not D.C., and the time limit for the warrant had run out. However, the police installed the tracker nonetheless and tracked Jones’ movements 24 hours a day for 4 weeks. At trial, the evidence obtained from tracking Jones’ movements was permitted to be brought in by the judge despite the fact that the tracking was done without a valid warrant.

The U.S Supreme Court ruled unanimously that placing a tracker on someone’s car constitutes a search and thus cannot be done without first obtaining a valid search warrant. This ruling means that officers in every state, including Utah, must obtain a warrant before placing a tracking device on your vehicle.

What Do I Do If I Find a Tracking Device on My Car?

The GPS tracking devices used by the police to track a vehicle’s movements are usually quite small and hidden. However, if you happen to come across such a device somewhere on your vehicle, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced West Valley City criminal defense attorney like those at Overson & Bugden. You may think that the best thing to do is to simply remove the tracking device. You may not even know if it was placed there by the police, a private detective, or someone else.

Removing it yourself could lead to trouble if it is a police device, however. In Indiana, for example, a police officer placed a device on a suspect’s car after obtaining a warrant, but the device was removed and went missing. Even though there was no direct evidence that the suspect removed the device, he was charged with theft. The best way to avoid further trouble is to have a lawyer examine the device and reach out to local law enforcement to see if it is one of theirs.

How Do I Challenge the Use of a Tracking Device without a Warrant?

Once your lawyer has found the source of the tracking device, they can determine what best next steps to take. If they learn that it is the work of the police or federal law enforcement, they can try to get an idea of what exactly they are suspecting you of doing. The lawyer will also ask to see the warrant they obtained. If there is no warrant, any evidence they obtained as a result of tracking your car cannot be used against you in a criminal case. An experienced illegal search and seizure lawyer in Salt Lake City can file a motion to exclude this evidence as soon as you are actually charged with a crime.

Another thing to note is that, even if the police produce a warrant, the warrant may not be valid for one reason or another. As in the Jones case, the warrant may have been for a specific amount of time that had expired. It could have been issued to track your movement only in one geographical area, but the police used it track you beyond that area. There can also be issues with the evidence used by the police to prove probable cause for the warrant. An experienced Park City criminal defense lawyer like those at Overson & Bugden will closely examine the warrant for any flaws. If there are any issues with the warrant, we will work to get all evidence obtained as a result of the warrant barred from being used against you in a subsequent criminal case.

Call Our Experienced Utah Defense Lawyers Today for a Free Consultation

The police are not permitted to place a GPS tracker on your vehicle unless they have made their case to a judge and the judge has granted a warrant for the tracker to be placed. Even if a warrant was granted, the police cannot go outside the scope of the permission given to them by the judge. At Overson & Bugden, our skilled Utah criminal defense attorneys will fight to ensure you are not subject to warrantless tracking, and that any evidence obtained through warrantless tracking cannot be used against you in a criminal case. For a free consultation, call us today at (801) 758-2287.