United States v. Jones

565 U.S. 400 (2012).

Jones was convicted of dealing drugs. He appeals.


Was the evidence gathered by the GPS attached to Jones’ car an illegal search in violation of the Fourth Amendment?


An unreasonable search not only applies to people, but applies to places.


This was an unreasonable search. The evidence is dismissed and Jones is entitled to a new trial.


Jones was a club owner and suspected of dealing in drugs. A warrant was obtained to attach a GPS to the bottom of his Jeep within 10 days. On the 11th day, the GPS was installed and tracked Jones’ movements for four weeks. At one point the battery had to be changed. The data collected produced several hundred entries of data which was ultimately utilized in helping obtain a conviction (despite the defendant’s objections that the evidence be removed).


The Fourth Amendment protects people and places. If this action was committed in the 1800s, this would have been considered a trespass. For these reasons, secretly attaching a GPS would be unreasonable.

The concurrence however thinks that the Katz concurrence test should be applied. That is, what is the respondant’s reasonable expectation of privacy? The conclusion is the same, but it still allows for short-term searches or potentially long-term searches for intense crimes.

Additional Notes

This case sets forth the trespass test. Did the search physically intrude on the target’s protected interests (person, house, etc.) with the intent to obtain information.

Part of the problem here is that GPS technology was new and the court needed to come up with a solution. The trespass test appeared to be more helpful.


Florida v. Jardines

596 U.S. 1 (2013).

Jardines was charged with trafficking illegal drugs. However, he was successful in getting the evidence from the search suppressed.


Whether the use of a drug-sniffing dog on the front porch, without a warrant, is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.


Use of Dogs to sniff for drugs on the cartilage requires a warrant. Without one or without exigent circumstances, the search is illegal.


The search was unconstitutional, affirmed.


After receiving an unverified tip, the officer went to the defendant’s house to watch for drug activity (corroborate). When no activity was apparent, he approached the door with a drug-sniffing dog. After running along the porch for a while looking for the odor, the dog sat by the front door indicating the smell of drugs inside. At this point, the officer left, used the information to obtain a warrant, and executed a search of the interior of the property.


Although people may have a standard license to enter the doorstep to talk to the owner, there is no standard license to bring a dog with you. Nor is there a standard license for the dog to search for drugs while on the doorstep. Thus, the police here were trespassing because they had no lawful right to be on the doorstep other than to knock and talk to the owner. In other words, this is a trespass.

The concurrence says that this is the use of a highly specialized tool, much like a metal detector, and therefore is outside the scope of being allowed on the doorstep to conduct a search.

However, the dissent says that dogs are an integral part of society and never have been discussed in case law regarding trespass. In other words, the court’s ruling was a novelty in saying dogs can’t be on the porch of a stranger.

Additional Notes

This case applies the property trespass test to determine whether a search has occurred.

Although dog searches are fine in the context of luggage at the airport (Place) and routine traffic stops (Cabales), they are not fine when they are within the property of the home. There are other questions of whether this extends to shared spaces in apartments (See Burns).

Phone and Other Electronic Data

Riley v. California

573 U.S. 373 (2014).


Whether an officer can search the digital information on a phone, without a warrant, during a search incident to arrest.


Warrantless searches of a phone incident to arrest are a violation of the Fourth Amendment unless there are exigent circumstances.


This is a combination of two cases. Riley had been stopped due to expired plates but other evidence led to his arrest. During the search incident to arrest (SITA), the officers confiscated his phone and searched his phone for incriminating evidence (connecting him to shootings and gang activity). Although he filed a motion to suppress the evidence found on the phone, the court denied the motion, allowed the evidence, which led to Riley’s conviction.


Under Chimel a SITA can occur because of the officer’s safety and to avoid evidence destruction. The standard used is reasonableness. To determine whether the search was reasonable, the court will balance the government interest and the nature of the privacy interest of the subject.

Governmental Interest: Although the state argues that the phone presents safety and destruction of evidence concerns, the Court rejects this argument. First, there is no safety concern because a phone is not used as a weapon and the digital data is not an immediate threat to life. Additionally, destruction of evidence concerns are not viable because there are other methods of excluding remote access to the phone (airplane mode or Faraday bags). Exigent circumstances, such as an emergency, may merit the search. Absent these circumstances, a warrant is required.

Privacy Concerns: The prosecutor argues that the privacy interest here is lower, being under arrest. However, the Court disagrees because the phone contains so much more information that is likely to be found around the home.

The concurrence agrees that this is the right result, because there are no better options. Instead, the concurrence argues the better place to resolve these issues are through legislation.

The result: you need a warrant to search the cell phone (unless there is a classic warrant exemption).

Carpenter v. United States

138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018).


Whether accessing cell phone records constitutes a search.


Anything that may violate a reasonable expectation of privacy will constitute a search.


Phone and location records based on phone use constitutes a reasonable expectation of privacy where a warrant is required to obtain that information.


Carpenter and about 15 others were suspected of a string of bank robberies within a short period of time. The officers obtained a court order to search Carpenter’s phone records over the space of a week during the time when the robberies took place. This information was then produced at trial which was used to convict him of the robberies.


Ever since Katz there has been a reasonable expectation of privacy standard. This standard, however, was mitigated slightly by a rule found in Smith and Miller which says there is no reasonable expectation of privacy of records you provide to third parties. Here, it is argued that the cell phone carriers are third parties within the standard. However, the court refuses to extend this standard to the carriers. This is because the phones have an expectation of privacy similar to that in Jones. People expect to be secure in knowing where they are traveling, when they text, what the text, who they call, when they call, etc. Further, the only way to avoid giving this information to the company is by not using a cell phone—so it can hardly be said that the information is voluntarily given.

On the other hand, the Kennedy dissent argues this is a third party record which clearly falls under the standard of Smith and Miller.

Further, the Gorsuch dissent doesn’t like the third party argument at all and instead says the defendant waived his better argument, that of property. Essentially, the argument is that phone records are part of your papers and effects, thus requiring constitutional protection beyond the expectation of privacy.

State v. Russo

790 A.2d 1132 (Conn. 2002).

Suspecting Russo of abusing prescription drugs, the officer went to several pharmacies and asked to see the records Russo provided when obtaining the prescriptions. Using the documents produced by the pharmacies, Russo was convicted of possession of a controlled substance by forging a prescription.

In 2002, the court held that this was not a search (after doing a balancing). Essentially, this is a third-party waiver doctrine example.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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