CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Henderson on the Fourth Amendment after United States v. Jones

Henderson stephenStephen E. Henderson (University of Oklahoma College of Law) has posted two articles regarding Fourth Amendment doctrine after United States v. Jones. The first is Real-time and Historic Location Surveillance after United States v. Jones: An Administrable, Mildly Mosaic Approach (Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Forthcoming). Here is the abstract:

In United States v. Jones, the government took an extreme position: so far as the federal Constitution is concerned, law enforcement can surreptitiously electronically track the movements of any American over the course of an entire month without cause or restraint. According to the government, whether the surveillance be for good reason, invidious reason, or no reason, the Fourth Amendment is not implicated. Fortunately, that position was unanimously rejected by the High Court. The Court did not, however, resolve what restriction or restraint the Fourth Amendment places upon location surveillance, reflecting a proper judicial restraint in this nuanced and difficult area. Using the newly enacted American Bar Association (ABA) Standards on Law Enforcement Access to Third Party Records, this article proposes a regulatory regime for law enforcement visual surveillance, law enforcement technologically-enhanced location surveillance, and law enforcement access to historic location records (e.g., cell site data).

Ideally, the proposal would be legislatively enacted with the backdrop of constitutional judicial review, and the article comments upon the need for constructive dialogue and initiative in that process by the law enforcement community, a view influenced by six years serving as Reporter for the ABA Standards.

The second is After United States v. Jones, After the Fourth Amendment Third Party Doctrine (North Carolina Journal of Law and Technology, Forthcoming). Here is the abstract:

United States v. Jones, in which the Court unanimously held that month-long Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking of a vehicle constitutes a Fourth Amendment search, did not in itself tell us too much. The government took an egregious position, and therefore lost nine to zero. We now apply a resurrected trespass-based conception of search, but we know extremely little about how to do so and what results it will alter. We know five Justices believe long-term location tracking is typically a search because it invades a reasonable, seemingly empirical, expectation of privacy. And we know one Justice is willing to reconsider the entire third party doctrine, which holds that one typically retains no Fourth Amendment expectation of privacy in information conveyed to another. 

But when we take a broader view, it is not merely one Justice who will not apply the third party doctrine in a strong form, and thus I have previously written the doctrine’s obituary. Jones fits nicely within a string of cases in which the Court is cautiously developing new standards of Fourth Amendment protections, rather than declaring generally applicable categorical rules. Given that it was a grand pronouncement of an allegedly categorical rule in United States v. Miller that has caused much of the trouble, this strikes me as a sensible way to proceed. I expect the road will not be smooth, but we are used to zigs and zags in the Fourth Amendment. It is hard to imagine anything less when the High Court is attempting to ferret out what is reasonable, which requires balancing private and law enforcement interests, and when technology, policing, crime, and social norms are constantly in flux. 

Much of the ground has been plowed before, both by myself and others dating back many years, which calls for brevity. Indeed, Jones will surely spark a new crop of Fourth Amendment papers, the authors of some of which will read what has gone before and some of whom will not. But Jones provides a nice hinge around which to discuss where the Fourth Amendment has been and where it might be going – and more generally where citizens’ protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, which do not depend solely upon the Fourth Amendment, might be going. Here I will content myself with that relatively high level, and like many others I will begin in other fora to drill down into specifics of how the Fourth Amendment should apply to the particular techniques of location tracking.

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