The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects an individual’s privacy and the right of every American citizen to be free from unfair government intrusion to their homes, businesses and property (Harcourt 2011). This applies whether through the police stopping citizens on the streets, searches of homes, searches of businesses and arrests. The courts and lawmakers have formulated legal safeguards that ensures that law enforcers only interfere of infringe with a persons’ Fourth Amendment right during certain and limited circumstances or through specific methods. The Fourth Amendment right (search and seizure) of all individuals extends to a law enforcer’s (police officer) seizure of physical apprehension of an individual through stops and arrests (Harcourt 2011). The Fourth Amendment also extends to searches of premises and items that a person has a permissible expectation of privacy. This consists of himself, purse, clothing, vehicle, luggage, hotel room, apartment and business premise. The Fourth Amendment guarantees safeguards to all American citizens during detentions or searches (Harcourt 2011). The right also prevents police officers from unlawfully confiscating personal items of individuals and using them as evidence during criminal cases in the courts. The degree of shield of the Fourth Amendment, however, depends on the nature of arrest or detention, characteristic of the searched place and the circumstances that led to the search.
United States vs. Antoine Jones
Summary of case
In the year 2004, Antoine Jones, owner of a nightspot called Levels located at Washington, D.C. came under the suspicion that he was trafficking narcotics. A joint task force comprising of the Metropolitan Police Department and the FBI obtained a warrant that authorized then to use a GPS tracking device on Jones’ Grand Cherokee Jeep (Marimow 2013). The warranty permitted the task force to attach the GPS device in the Columbia District. This was to happen within ten days I which the warrant was issued. The task force instead installed the device during the eleventh day in which the warrant was issued. This was a day past the ten day recommendation which took place in Maryland. The task force used the device outside the terms of the warrant for twenty eight days in which they gathered two thousand pages of data.
During the twenty eight days, the taskforce used the device to track the whereabouts of Jones and his vehicle. Data obtained during that period was used by the task force to further investigate, charge and convict Antoine Jones of possession of cocaine and its distribution. Jones later appealed the use of a GPS device on his car and also his conviction (Marimow 2013). The government later argued that it did not necessarily need a warrant for tracking Antoine Jones and the movements he made with his car. The government argued that the movements were entirely in public.
In a 1967 case of Katz vs. United States, similar to that of Jones, the supreme court of the united states had states that, “What a person knowingly exposes to the public … is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection” (Marimow 2013). The presiding judge, Justice John Marshall Harlan insisted on the Fourth Amendment protection coming from an expectation of privacy which the community finds reasonable. The court presiding over the case of Jones however declined to let reasonable expectation and advanced technology to overrun protection from the Fourth Amendment. The court relied upon property rights in determining if the task force had invaded any right against unfair searches and seizures. The case against Jones opens the doorway to advancement in shield of the Fourth Amendment.
Court decision and opinion
One of the presiding judges (Justice Antonin Scalia) concluded that the government’s use of a GPS device on Jones’ vehicle to monitor his whereabouts and that of his car constitutes a ‘search.’ The judge concluded that the installation of the GPS device on Jones’ car after the expiry of the warrant was an infringement of the Fourth Amendment (Marimow 2013). Justice Antonin Scalia concluded on behalf of a five justice majority that the government occupied private property for the sole reason of obtaining information. This information was illegally obtained and therefore cannot serve as evidence in a court of law. There was therefore no sufficient evidence needed to convict Antoine Jones of the charges presented against him. The panel of judges gave a unanimous decision to free Antoine Jones. Four judges, however, disagreed with the rationale of Justice Antonin Scalia. Justice Samuel Alito, who led this group, argued not in favor of property analysis in giving a verdict. Another judge, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, did not support Justice Antonin’s rationale but like the other judges she agreed that there was no legal evidence to charge Antoine Jones. She stated that “the premise that an individual has no reasonable expectation of privacy in information voluntarily disclosed to third parties” (Marimow 2013).
The court gave a unanimous verdict buy concluding that the government had no right to track people by using high-tech devices unless it had a legal warranty. The court gave the opinion that it should be the one to talk about the expectations of privacy which govern constitutional protection (Marimow 2013). The choices that people make in using their property determine whether information is protected and private. The government should use an individual’s vehicle for surveillance purposes meaning that if the government wants to know about the whereabouts of a suspect, then it has to find other means to do so or obtain a warrant (Marimow 2013). Installing a GPS device in person’s car without having a legal warrant is an act that infringes on an individual’s Fourth Amendment right. The person has the right to appeal to the court because evidence gathered in this manner is not valid.
It is without a doubt and reasonable to anticipate that an individual can protect personal information by placing legal and physical barriers. The Fourth Amendment states the right of all individuals and retains an individual’s sovereignty. This plays a major role in freeing an individual against unreasonable and unfair searches and seizures despite any suspicion that the government has on the individual. An American citizen is entitled to the right of the Fourth Amendment hence the government should not break the law in the bid to fight crime and drug trafficking. The government should follow all legal measures that will ensure that they gather evidence in the right manner. This will enable a person to receive a fair and proper trial when he has charges against him in the court of law. There is no person who is above the law therefore everyone must obey the rules of the land and not at any particular time break them.
Harcourt, B. E., & Meares, T. L. (2011). Randomization and the fourth amendment. The University of Chicago Law Review, 78(3), 809-877. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/906489808?accountid=35812
Marimow, A. E. (2013). Judge declares mistrial in latest prosecution of antoine jones. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1314444117?accountid=35812
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