Constitutional Law

3rd Circuit agrees to en banc rehearing in GPS vehicle tracking case

A federal appeals court has agreed to rehear en banc a panel’s decision requiring police to obtain a warrant to attach a GPS device to a suspect’s car.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling (PDF) Thursday, set the case for a rehearing before the full court in May, the Legal Intelligencer reports.

The case involves three brothers who allegedly burglarized several Philadelphia-area pharmacies. A divided three-judge panel in October upheld a trial court ruling suppressing evidence gathered without a warrant from a GPS device attached to one suspect’s car.

The panel unanimously held that GPS devices attached to vehicles by police constitute a search under the Fourth Amendment, but split 2-1 on the issue whether the evidence could still be used under the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule.

Prosecutors had appealed the panel’s decision on the question whether police officers had shown objective good faith in their actions, which would allow the evidence they gathered from the GPS device to be used at trial.

“Under the principles announced by the Supreme Court, the panel’s decision unjustifiably applies the ‘massive remedy’ of suppressing reliable and probative evidence without achieving appreciable deterrence,” prosecutors argued in their brief for a rehearing. “Indeed, it produces no legitimate deterrent benefit at all.”

A majority of the appeals court’s active judges voted to rehear the case barely a week after the prosecutors’ petition was filed. Argument is scheduled for May 28.

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.