Alito’s point was that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”
“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”
He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan.
The key to the court’s more narrow decision on the case seemed to be Sotomayor. She praised Alito’s “incisively” written concurrence and expressed the most concern about the loss of personal privacy. But she said the government’s intrusion on Jones’s property was enough to decide the case, and “resolution of these difficult questions” could wait.
The Supreme Court’s decision Monday upheld a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D. C. Circuit that said Jones’s conviction must be reversed — although it, like Alito, was concerned about the length of the surveillance. Jones remains imprisoned while prosecutors decide whether to retry him.
Law enforcement could have avoided the issue in 2005 if officers had more closely followed the instructions of a judge who issued a warrant authorizing the use of the GPS device. The judge said it had to be installed within 10 days while Jones’s Jeep was in Washington. Instead, it was installed after 11 days, while the vehicle was in Maryland.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia is carefully reviewing the court’s opinion and evaluating its options,” a spokesman said in a statement. “Beyond that, the office has no comment at this time.”
A. Eduardo Balarezo, who represented Jones in his initial case and his retrial, said the GPS evidence was “highly critical” to the government’s case because it linked Jones to a Fort Washington stash house, where police and FBI agents found nearly $1 million in cash almost 100 kilos of cocaine.
The case is
United States v. Jones
Staff writer Keith Alexander contributed to this report.