GPS Tracking Devices and Motor Vehicles in NY: Is a Warrant Needed?

New York criminal defense attorneys are constantly dealing with law enforcement as they continue expanding their arsenal of tools to investigate and prosecute crimes. Whether it be for drug and narcotic sales or forgery and theft related offenses, law enforcement is utilizing these growing number of tools. One example of that technology is the GPS device. GPS devices have given law enforcement another means to track and locate targets and defendants. The question that has been raised, however, is whether or not a GPS device can be placed on a vehicle without first getting a warrant?

Although the Court of Appeals, New York State’s highest court, has not yet given a definitive answer on the issue, the Appellate Division, 3rd Department recently did. In People v. Weaver, decided this past June, law enforcement placed a GPS device on a target’s van who was believed to be involved in numerous burglaries. This particular GPS devices was battery operated, placed under the vehicle’s bumper and attached while the vehicle was parked in a public location.

The 3rd Department found that in this particular case no warrant was needed. Specifically, the Court noted that one’s expectation of privacy is generally less when dealing with vehicles as opposed to residences. Moreover, this particular GPS device was battery operated, i.e., it was not hardwired to the vehicle. The GPS device was placed on the exterior of the vehicle (under the bumper) and made no recordings of movement while the vehicle was in a private location (the vehicle was in a public street).

It is important to note that this decision is case specific and not controlling on a court’s decision in New York City. The outcome may be different if the GPS device was in fact hardwired to the vehicle’s electric system or it was placed inside. Because the Court of Appeals has not decided this issue, applying Weaver to any case does not merely require a legal analysis, but a factual one as well. The former Manhattan prosecutors and criminal defense attorneys at Saland Law PC, are experienced and ready to conduct this analysis and construct the strongest legal argument on your behalf to protect your rights.

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