Sunday, April 21, 2019

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Dear Judges:

The United States Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in the case of United States v. Jones.  The Court unanimously agreed that the warrantless use of a GPS device that the government installed on Jones's vehicle was a search and required a search warrant.

Brief synopsis of the facts: The Government obtained a search warrant permitting it to install a GPS tracking device onto the undercarriage of Jones's car.  The warrant authorized installation in the District of Columbia and within 10 days.  The Government then installed the device in Maryland on the 11th day.  (In this litigation, the Government conceded that the warrant was not complied with and only argued that a warrant was not necessary because this was not a search.)  They then tracked Jones's car for 28 days and replaced the GPS's battery while Jones was parked in a public lot in Maryland.  Jones was later indicted for drug trafficking conspiracy charges.  The Government used the GPS data in trial against Jones and he was convicted.

Holding: The Court held that the Government's installation of a GPS device on a target's vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle's movements, constitutes a "search" under the Fourth Amendment.

However, you may NOT sign these search warrants.  There is a South Carolina statute that is directly on point regarding mobile tracking devices.  This statute (17-30-140) states that a solicitor or Attorney General is to go to a circuit court judge to request an order approving the installation and use of a mobile tracking device by any state law enforcement agency.  Therefore, magistrates and municipal judges do not have jurisdiction to sign search warrants regarding the installation and monitoring of a mobile tracking device.

The case can be found in its entirety at

The content of this article was provided by:

Renee Lipson

SCCA Staff Attorney

The office of Court Administration provides legal updates, explanations of new legislation, summaries of case law, and opinions issued by various entities, primarily for the purpose of assisting the various courts within the state as well as those agencies which support the courts.  While every effort is made to provide current information as well as accurate summaries of legislation, case law, and opinions, there may be instances in which the information provided by this office is subject to multiple interpretations. Our intent is to provide an objective summary of the legislation, case law, or opinion. However, the summaries provided by this office should not be substituted for the plain wording of the legislation, opinion, or case law.

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