Civil Liberties

This week, we’re studying civil liberties. Let’s look at an interesting Fourth Amendment case about our right to be secure “against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

This is what the Fourth Amendment actually says: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” Hold that thought in your mind as we learn about Antoine Jones.

Mr. Jones was the owner of a Washington nightclub when police came to suspect him of being a cocaine dealer. Police placed a GPS tracking device on his Jeep Grand Cherokee without a warrant, tracked his movements for a month, and used the evidence they gathered to convict him of conspiring to sell cocaine, after which he was sentenced to life in prison.

This raises an interesting question. Is the placement of a tracking device on a person’s car a “search” under the Fourth Amendment?

On the one hand, tracking somebody’s movements without a warrant seems awfully intrusive, doesn’t it? On the other hand, anybody can follow anybody on a public street for any reason and see where they go. Why is it any different to do it with technology? The cops didn’t technically “search” anything.


Write an essay explaining the basic facts of United States v. Jones, the decision reached by the court, and why. If you were on the Supreme Court, how would you have ruled? Finally, think about the Fourth Amendment. These words were written in the 1790s, but think about them in the context of an age with email, cell phones, high-resolution satellite photography that can watch you from earth orbit, and infra-red sensors that can detect the heat generated by indoor marijuana plants from outside a building. Where do you think a government search crosses the line from reasonable to unreasonable? Give some examples.

Submit in Word 2 pages. Cite your sources.

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