So you think that what is decided by nine U.S. Supreme Court justices sitting 500 miles away in Washington D.C. doesn’t affect us here in Michigan? Think again. Soon the court will hear and decide a large number of cases that could overhaul almost every part of the criminal justice system.
Between now and May 2012, the court will decide things like whether the police need a warrant to use advanced technology (Global Positioning Satellites) to track suspects, whether jails may strip-search people arrested for even the most minor offenses, whether defendants have a right to competent lawyers to help them decide whether to plead guilty, when eyewitness evidence can be used at trial, and what should happen when prosecutors withhold evidence.
The most fascinating one is probably the case of “U.S. v Jones.” Antoine Jones was followed by police using “GPS” - satelites - technology. He was convicted in 2008 and sentenced to life in prison for possessing over 50 kilograms of cocaine. The key evidence against him? Police got a warrant to secretly install a GPS device in order to monitor the Jeep Cherokee driven by Jones. The warrant expired after 10 days, but the police nevertheless used the GPS to monitor everywhere he drove - every 10 seconds, for 28 days. He led them to his “stash house” in a Maryland suburb, where they found cocaine, plus $850,000 in cash. Jones tried to have his conviction set aside, arguing that the GPS surveillance violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free of unreasonable government searches and seizures. The government replied that GPS tracking is no different from police observing activity in public spaces and roadways.
Some Justices wondered whether it was fair to track someone constantly; if police could do that to a car, then some day could the government install a microchip in your skin and track you that way, too? Is using a GPS like checking on someone’s cell phone usage, going through their garbage, reading their credit report, or secretly tape-recording them? Or is it like none of these things – just how much privacy should we allow?
Personally I think the justices, even though they are a conservative group, have had “enough” of technology stripping away our “in public” privacies. Unfortunately, every time the police and government are given the “green light” to use warrants less often, our expectations of privacy become less and less. Eventually we end up getting used to less; it’s at the point where we can’t leave the four walls of our houses without being followed or put under a microscope. Oh, I know what you’re saying – “Well, that’s okay because I’m not doing anything wrong.” But civil liberties and privacy belong to society as a whole, and that means everyone - not just to the “good guys.”
(Richard Marcil www.MarcilAttorney.com is an attorney in Clinton Township practicing in criminal defense, civil rights, and personal injury cases, as well as family law and business litigation.)