GPS and the Fourth Amendment

In United States v. Taylor, the Indianapolis police department attached, without a warrant, a GPS unit to a suspected drug dealer’s car. After gathering location data from the GPS they learned the car made several stops at a storage unit. Based on that information, they asked a Court to issue a search warrant for the storage unit.

A different Marion County judge reviewed the warrant application and authorized a search of Taylor’s storage unit. The police searched the locker and found 752.61 grams of cocaine, four firearms, and digital scales. Taylor was charged in federal court with one count of possessing with intent to distribute 500 grams or more of a mixture or substance containing cocaine, and four counts of possessing a firearm as a felon.

Taylor moved to suppress the storage unit evidence as the fruit of an unlawful search. He maintained that the warrantless tracking of his car with GPS violated the Fourth Amendment. Taylor also argued that the search warrant was invalid because the police did tell the second Judge about the GPS unit.

The Court of Appeals held that the district court correctly concluded that the application of the good-faith exception applied. The good faith exemption allows evidence collected in violation of privacy rights to be admitted at trial if police officers were acting in good faith — that is, they had reason to believe their actions were legal (measured under the reasonable person test). The Court held that the installation of a GPS device, and the use of the location data it produces, are not within the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

Case decided January 14, 2015.

The federal criminal defense lawyers at NLKJ represent people charged with federal crimes in both the District Court and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals. We routinely analyze issues concerning the Fourth Amendment. Click here for more information.