United States v. Jones

PETITIONER:United States
RESPONDENT:Antoine Jones
LOCATION:Mayo Clinic

DOCKET NO.: 10-1259
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 565 US (2012)
GRANTED: Jun 27, 2011
ARGUED: Nov 08, 2011
DECIDED: Jan 23, 2012

Michael R. Dreeben – Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the petitioner
Stephen C. Leckar – for the respondents

Facts of the case

Antoine Jones was arrested on Oct. 24, 2005, for drug possession after police attached a tracker to Jones’s Jeep — without judicial approval — and used it to follow him for a month. A jury found Jones not guilty on all charges save for conspiracy, on which point jurors hung. District prosecutors, upset at the loss, re-filed a single count of conspiracy against Jones and his business partner, Lawrence Maynard. Jones owned the “Levels” nightclub in the District of Columbia. Jones and Maynard were then convicted, but a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that the Supreme Court specifically stated in a 1983 case regarding the use of a beeper to track a suspect that the decision could not be used to justify 24-hour surveillance without a warrant.


Did the warrantless use of a tracking device on Jones’s vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violate Jones’ Fourth Amendment rights?

Media for United States v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – November 08, 2011 in United States v. Jones

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – January 23, 2012 in United States v. Jones

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Scalia has our opinion this morning in Case 10-1259, United States versus Jones.

Antonin Scalia:

This case is here on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

In 2004, the respondent, Antoine Jones, came under suspicion of trafficking in narcotics.

The Government obtained, from the United States District Court here, a warrant authorizing the installation of an electronic tracking device on the Jeep registered to Jones’ wife to be installed in the District of Columbia and within 10 days.

On the 11th day, and not in the District of Columbia but in Maryland, agents installed a GPS tracking — tracking device on the undercarriage of the Jeep while it was parked in a public parking lot.

Over the next 28 days, the Government used the device to track the vehicle’s movements.

In the later trial of Jones and others on drug trafficking charges, the District Court suppressed the GPS data obtained while the vehicle was parked at Jones’ residence but admitted the remaining data which connected Jones to the alleged conspirators’ stash house that contained significant amounts of cash and narcotics.

The jury returned a guilty verdict, and the District Court sentenced Jones to life imprisonment.

The D. C. Circuit set the conviction aside, concluding that admission of the evidence obtained by the warrantless use of the GPS tracking device violated the Fourth Amendment.

We granted certiorari, and we now affirm.

The Fourth Amendment protects “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures”.

The Jeep is certainly an effect, as that term is used in the Amendment.

We hold that the Government’s physical intrusion on the Jeep, for the purpose of obtaining information, constitutes a search.

This type of encroachment on an area enumerated in the Amendment would have been considered a search within the meaning of the Amendment at the time it was adopted.

The text of the Amendment reflects its close connection to property, since otherwise it would have referred simply to the right of the people to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures.

That’s not what it says.

It says “to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures”.

The — that last phrase would have been superfluous.

Consistent with this understanding, our Fourth Amendment jurisprudence was tied to common-law trespass, at least until the latter half of the 20th Century.

Our later cases, of course, have departed from an exclusively property based approach.

They have applied the analysis of Justice Harlan’s concurrence in Katz versus United States, a 1967 case which said that a Fourth Amendment violation occurs when government officers violate a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.

The Government contends that Justice Harlan’s standard shows that no search occurred here, since Jones had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the area of the Jeep accessed by government agents, namely, the — the underbody and in the locations of the Jeep on the public roads which was visible to all.

We do not address those contentions because Jones’ Fourth Amendment rights do not rise or fall with the Katz formulation.

At bottom, as we said in Kyllo versus United States, we must “assure preservation of that degree of privacy against Government that existed when the Fourth Amendment was adapted”.

Katz did not repudiate the understanding that the Fourth Amendment embodies a particular concern for government trespass upon the areas that it enumerates.

The reasonable expectation of privacy test has been added to, not substituted for the common law trespassory test.

The Government relies heavily on two post Katz cases in which we rejected Fourth Amendment challenges to the use of beepers, another sort of tracking device that the Government had placed inside a container of chemicals in order to monitor the container’s movements.

In the first of those cases, United States versus Knotts, we held that the monitoring of the movements did not violate the Katz’s reasonable expectation of privacy test since the information obtained, the location of an automobile carrying the container on public roads and the location of the offloaded container in open-fields near Knotts’ cabin, had — had been — had been voluntarily exposed to the public.

The common law trespassory test was not at issue in that case.

And in the second “beeper” case, United States versus Karo, we addressed the question left open by Knotts, whether the installation of a beeper in a container constituted a Fourth Amendment violation.

Antonin Scalia:

But as in Knotts, at the time the beeper was installed in Karo, the container belonged to a third party, and it did not come into the defendant’s possession until later.

Karo had accepted the container as it came to him, beeper and all.

The installation of the beeper had not violated his property rights.

Accordingly, he was not entitled to object to the beeper’s presence when it was later used to monitor the container’s location.

Jones, who possessed the Jeep at the time the Government trespassorily inserted the GPS device, stands in a different position.

The Government argues in the alternative that even if the attachment and use of the device was a search, it was reasonable and thus lawful under the Fourth Amendment.

The Government did not raise this argument below and the Court of Appeals, therefore, did not address it.

We consider the argument forfeited.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed.

Justice Sotomayor has joined the Court’s opinion, but has filed a separate concurrence.

Justice Alito has filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan join.