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Do the police have to get a warrant to track a car?

Police can use Global Positioning System trackers to keep an eye on a car's movement. These wireless devices can automatically be set up to transmit the location of the vehicle to the authorities, whether it's driving or just sitting in a parking lot. This is something that has been done in drug-related cases. So, do the police need to get a warrant to do it?

They absolutely do. One of the biggest cases that set this precedent involved drug charges and a nightclub owner—the owner was accused of distributing drugs—and the police even got a warrant in advance. However, they then breached the terms of the warrant, and so the Supreme Court overturned their conviction, which had been based on that information.

The premise for this ruling was that the Fourth Amendment had to be used, as it relates to searches and seizures. Though not the traditional definition, tracking a vehicle counts, in a legal sense, as a search.

Therefore, since the police cannot search your home or vehicle without a warrant in most cases, they also can't track a vehicle without a warrant.

As the above case shows, they also need to abide by the exact terms of the warrant for it to be legal. This especially comes into play when tracking a vehicle for an extended period of time. For example, if the warrant allows them to track it for a week and they get crucial information on day eight, that information may be thrown out because they simply tracked the car for too long.

Laws about new technology are always evolving, so be sure that you know your rights and what precedents have been set if you're facing charges in Chicago.

Source: NPR, "Do Police Need Warrants For GPS Tracking Devices?," Nina Totenberg, accessed March 11, 2016

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