SC Supreme Court Enforces Fourth Amendment

In State v. Adams, the South Carolina Supreme Court recognized limits on law enforcement’s ability to track a citizen’s vehicle with a GPS device, set a trap, and search the vehicle for drugs.  In doing so, the Court enforced United States v. Jones, a 2012 Supreme Court of the United States decision holding that “the Government’s [warrantless] installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements constitutes a search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

In Adams, our Court of Appeals found the GPS devise constituted an unlawful search, but went on to hold subsequent traffic violations cured the harm, meaning the drugs were still admissible evidence.  In an opinion written by Justice John Kittredge, our Supreme Court disagreed and held the “traffic violations provide an insufficient attenuation from the taint of the illegal search” because “[t]he traffic stop was entirely predicated on the information obtained from the GPS device and law enforcement’s desire to search Adams and his vehicle for drugs.”

In holding the exclusionary rule applicable, the Court recognized the importance of its decision in enforcing Jones.  Allowing the State to use the evidence would “provide a blueprint for the circumventing the protections of the Fourth Amendment.”  The government “would be free to install a GPS device on a suspect’s vehicle without a warrant, track the suspect with impunity, and cure all ills from the underlying Fourth Amendment violation by waiting for a fortuitous traffic offense.”  The Court recognized, “Such an affront on the Fourth Amendment would render Jones meaningless and would not serve the exclusionary rule’s stated purpose of deterring unlawful police conduct.”

Adams is an important decision.  Advances in technology infringe on privacy.  The Fourth Amendment and the Right to Privacy guaranteed by the South Carolina Constitution are important limits on government power.

Please click this link to read the court opinion in State v. Adams