Police in Delaware may soon be unable to use global positioning systems (GPS) to keep tabs on a suspect unless they have a court-signed warrant, thanks to a recent ruling by a superior court judge who cited famed author George Orwell in her decision.
In striking down evidence obtained through warrantless GPS tracking, Delaware Judge Jan R. Jurden wrote that “an Orwellian state is now technologically feasible,” adding that “without adequate judicial preservation of privacy, there is nothing to protect our citizens from being tracked 24/7.”
The ruling goes against a federal appeals court’s decision last summer that allowed warrantless tracking by GPS.
Jurden was ruling on the case of Michael D. Holden, who police say was pulled over with 10 lbs. of marijuana in his car last February. Holden was allegedly named by a DEA task force informant in 2009, and in early 2010, without obtaining a warrant, police placed a GPS device on his car, allowing them to follow him whenever he used the vehicle.
Police investigators say they had the GPS on Holden’s car for 20 days when they saw what they believed to be a cash-for-drugs exchange involving Holden in New Jersey. Police stopped him on a bridge crossing into Delaware and arrested him.
Unless there are special circumstances, “the warrantless placement of a GPS device to track a suspect 24 hours a day constitutes an unlawful search,” Judge Jurden wrote in her ruling (PDF). “In this case, there was insufficient probable cause independent of the GPS tracking to stop Holden’s vehicle where and when it was stopped, and therefore, the evidence seized from Holden’s vehicle must be suppressed.”…