No warrant for tracking reverses drug conviction

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court on Friday reversed a man's drug conspiracy conviction because authorities failed to get a warrant before using a global positioning system device that tracked his movements for a month.

Lawyers for the defendant, Antoine Jones, successfully argued that police officers violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches with the GPS system they secretly installed on his car.

In a 3-0 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found that the use of the GPS device was a search and that the GPS data was essential to the government's case.

By combining GPS information "with Jones' cell-phone records the government was able to paint a picture of Jones' movements that made credible the allegation that he was involved in drug trafficking," said the decision by Appeals Judge Douglas Ginsburg.

The judges concluded that the police action was a search that first required a warrant because it defeated Jones' reasonable expectation of privacy.

Jones, who was owner of a Washington, D.C., nightclub, was convicted of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and cocaine base.