Virginia Legislators React to the Supreme Court GPS Ruling

During the course of investigating a Washington, D.C., nightclub owner for drug trafficking, the police attached a GPS tracking device to the suspect's vehicle. The authorities tracked the nightclub owner for nearly a month, gathering information that helped lead to a conviction.

Appealing the conviction, the nightclub owner's criminal defense attorney challenged the GPS tracking.

In January 2012, the United States Supreme Court unanimously, although split in its reasoning, overturned the conviction. The majority found the warrantless attachment of the GPS in this case violated the suspect's Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures. The other justices found the use of the GPS tracking for nearly a month violated the suspect's expectation of privacy.

The Court, however, did not go so far as to say that all warrantless GPS tracking would constitute an "unreasonable search and seizure". However, the ruling does put GPS tracking within the reach of the Fourth Amendment.

Virginia Legislation

In the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, the Virginia Legislature passed bills affirming the use of the GPS tracking by Commonwealth authorities.

While the bills mainly established how search warrants for tracking would be obtained and issued, WSLS NBC News states that the legislation would allow for the possibility for search warrants and corresponding police reports detailing tracking information to be sealed forever. According to WSLS, the purpose of sealing the information contained in the search warrant is to "prevent [the] disclosure of a person's movements that could be embarrassing or, worse, disrupt a person's life."

It should be noted that many search warrants, and the corresponding police reports, will be unsealed when charges are filed and cases are prosecuted. For cases that are not prosecuted, the target of the surveillance will be given the option to unseal the information.

The legislation contains a penalty provision. Disclosure of sealed search warrant information without a judge's permission would be considered a Class 1 misdemeanor - people guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor face up to 1 year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.

For questions about search warrants, speak with a criminal defense attorney.