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In 2007, a man named Juan Pineda-Moreno was suspected of purchasing products to grow Cannabis. Rather than put a GPS tracking device on his car and leaving it, they put several GPS devices on his car throughout a four month investigation. Most of the time his vehicle was on public property, but twice the car was in his driveway, so they entered his property at 4 to 5 in the morning to place it.

I'm aware that in United States v. Jones the Supreme Court ruled that police must obtain a warrant to use GPS devices. However, their conclusion had to do with how long the GPS was attached to Jones' car. In Pineda-Moreno's case, the GPS was used to follow him for short distances.

I cannot find any new information on this case past 2010. Can officers still use a GPS tracking device without a warrent?

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US v. Jones

The majority opinion in US v. Jones 565 U. S. ____ (2012) , written by Justice Scalia, held that the attachment of the GPS device to the vehicle was a trespass and thus a search. The analysis ended there. It did not even need to reach the issue of how long Jones was monitored (although one of the concurring opinions took that into account).

Katz did not repudiate the understanding that the Fourth Amendment embodies a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas it enumerates. The Katz reasonable-expectation-of-privacy test has been added to, but not substituted for, the common-law trespassory test.

This leaves open whether police can attach a GPS device to a car before it is obtained by a defendant and then later use that GPS device to monitor the defendant's movements. Based on the concurrences in Jones there are at least five votes for the principle that long term GPS surveillance is a search (Justices Alito, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan, Sotomayor1) and at least one vote (Justice Sotomayor) for the principle that any GPS surveillance is a search. The latter holding would require overruling or distinguishing Karo and Knotts, two cases that allowed the placement of a surveillance device into things before the defendant purchased them.2

Effect on US v. Pineda-Moreno

Regarding, US v. Pineda-Moreno, on remand to the 9th Circuit for consideration in light of Jones, the 9th Circuit said:

Jones has made clear that the agents conducted Fourth Amendment searches when they attached tracking devices to Pineda-Moreno’s Jeep and used the devices to monitor the Jeep’s movements. Indeed, for purposes of this remand we will assume, without deciding, that those warrantless searches would be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment after Jones.

But Jones had not been decided when those searches occurred. And when the agents attached and used the mobile tracking devices that yielded the critical evidence, they did so in objectively reasonable reliance on then-binding precedent.

Relying on Davis v. United States, 564 U.S. 229 (2011), the 9th Circuit declined to suppress the evidence obtained against Pineda-Moreno.

Searches conducted in objectively reasonable reliance on binding appellate precedent are not subject to the exclusionary rule.


1. While Justice Sotomayor did not join Justice Alito's concurrence, she wrote: "I agree with Justice Alito that, at the very least, “longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”"

2. In a pre-Jones dissent to the denial of a petition for en banc rehearing of US v Pineda-Moreno, Chief Judge Kozinski distinguished Knotts this way: The electronic tracking devices used by the police in this case have little in common with the [beepers] in Knotts. [...] Beepers could help police keep vehicles in view when following them, or find them when they lost sight of them, but they still required at least one officer—and usually many more—to follow the suspect. The modern devices used in Pineda-Moreno’s case can record the car’s movements without human intervention—quietly, invisibly, with uncanny precision.

  • Thank you K-C. I was about to send this to you. Does this simply mean that since Juan was arrested in 2007, the Jones case doesn't hold for him because the officers arrested him before the Supreme Court made their decision? – Cannabijoy Jan 15 '17 at 16:41
  • Okay, that makes sense. Kinda sucks for Juan though. If you don't mind me asking one more thing... policemag.com/blog/technology/story/2012/07/… It says if police believe there is an imminent threat to life or the general public, then "Only reasonable suspicion, and not probable cause, is required" Are these exceptions still binding? – Cannabijoy Jan 15 '17 at 16:52

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