News Release

Supreme Court Breathes Life into Fourth Amendment

Washington, DC (Jan. 23, 2012) – The Supreme Court today decided one of the most important liberty and privacy cases in decades, ruling unanimously that government's installation and use of a GPS tracking device on a defendant's vehicle constitutes a search that presumptively requires a warrant under the Fourth Amendment. The Justice Department had argued that law enforcement has the authority, unsupervised by any court, to install and use GPS technology to monitor and store the movements, 24/7, of whomever it targets, anywhere, anytime, without a warrant. The entire Court disagreed.

The case is United States v. Jones, No. 10-1259, affirming the judgment in United States v. Maynard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, which reversed Mr. Jones conviction "because it was obtained with evidence procured in violation of the Fourth Amendment."

"Today's decision is a victory for privacy in the digital age," said Lisa Wayne, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL). "The alternative to protecting a person's privacy interests in the web of his travels and associations would be what the government argued – that the police have some kind of hypothetical right to track anyone and everyone, for as long as they want, for any reason they want, or no reason at all."

A lead co-author of NACDL's joint amicus brief in the case, Susan J. Walsh, of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard, New York City, explained, "As NACDL pointed out in its amicus curiae brief in support of Mr. Jones, and previously in the New York GPS case, People v. Weaver, the aggregation of a person's day-to-day travels over any period of time will reveal highly-personal, but non-criminal, information about a person's private life. In that case, New York's highest court agreed that it takes little imagination to imagine the kinds of personal travels a person would not want to unnecessarily disclose – trips to a psychiatrist's office, a family-planning or AIDS clinic, a strip club, political meetings, a church, a synagogue or mosque."

Led by NACDL, a coalition of civil liberties and defense groups joined together to file a joint amicus, or friend-of-the-court,brief in this case. In the brief, available here, amici argued that warrantless GPS surveillance imposes an unacceptable burden on First Amendment associational privacy rights as well as Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Led by NACDL, the groups included the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, the First Amendment Lawyers Association, and three NACDL state affiliates who have appeared with NACDL in warrantless GPS tracking cases in their respective jurisdictions – the District of Columbia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (DCACDL), the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NYSACDL), and the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (OACDL). These groups strongly urged the U.S. Supreme Court to condition GPS installation and monitoring upon judicial issuance of a warrant.

The brief was written by Jeffrey T. Green, co-Chair of NACDL's Amicus Curiae Committee and partner at Sidley Austin LLP in Washington, DC; Susan J. Walsh of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard in New York City; Professor Sarah O'Rourke Schrup of the Northwestern University Supreme Court Practicum in Chicago, Ill.; and Executive Director Norman L. Reimer and Deputy Director of Public Affairs & Communications Ivan J. Dominguez of NACDL in Washington, DC.

In 2009, NACDL filed an amicus curiae brief in People v. Weaver, a warrantless GPS case arising under New York State's Constitution. In that case, NACDL successfully argued in that case that warrantless GPS surveillance violated the New York State constitution. And in a separate case arising under the U.S. Constitution and currently pending before the Supreme Court of Ohio, State v. Johnson, NACDL argued in its amicus curiae brief that warrantless surveillance violates the First and Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

A link to NACDL's joint amicus curiae brief in United States v. Jones is available here.

Continue reading below

Featured Products


Ivan J. Dominguez Deputy Director of Public Affairs & Communications, (202) 465-7662 or 

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers is the preeminent organization advancing the mission of the criminal defense bar to ensure justice and due process for persons accused of crime or wrongdoing. A professional bar association founded in 1958, NACDL's many thousands of direct members in 28 countries – and 90 state, provincial and local affiliate organizations totaling up to 40,000 attorneys – include private criminal defense lawyers, public defenders, military defense counsel, law professors and judges committed to preserving fairness and promoting a rational and humane criminal legal system.