The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday that police may secretly break into a suspect’s vehicle and install a GPS tracking device if the state first obtains a valid warrant.
In a unanimous decision, the court decided in Commonwealth v. Connolly (under slip opinions) that the covert placement of such a device into a private car is a seizure. However, the court also stated it is not a violation of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights’ ban on unreasonable searches and seizures as long as the state establishes “before a magistrate, probable cause to believe that a particularly described offense has been…or is about to be committed, and that GPS monitoring of the vehicle will produce evidence…or will aid in the apprehension of a person” who police believe is responsible for that offense.
While most search warrants are valid for seven days, the court said that GPS monitoring can last up to fifteen days.
In class, we will talk about the various tools enforcement agencies use to collect electronic information (key logging systems, GPS monitoring, wiretaps, etc.) However, the theme in all these cases is that a judicial officer (judge, magistrate, or otherwise) must approve a warrant before such action can take place. Otherwise the evidence can be challenged in a court of law as an illegal seizure.