Last month, when the United States Supreme Court ruled on whether the police could attach a GPS to a car in order to track a suspected drug trafficker, the case received nationwide attention.United States v. Antoine Jones. A few days ago, when the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled on a stubborn landlady's refusal to allow a Garfield construction official to inspect her building, the case generated very little attention at all. State v. Ellen Heine. How is it that we can even speak of these decisions in the same breath?
The answer is that these cases both shed light on how the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution governs our lives and limits what officials can do without a judge's approval.
THE FOURTH AMENDMENT - 54 POWERFUL WORDS
The Fourth Amendment contains only 54 words, but it sets forth the protections against governmental intrusion that ensure our right to be free from arbitrary intrusions into our belongings and our persons. Here's what the Fourth Amendment says:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
What this language means is that when a government official wants to search and doesn't have consent, he or she must first go before a judge for permission, swearing to facts that will convince the judge that the search is justified.
Under New Jersey Law, Government Inspectors Cannot Demand Entry to a Home to See if Local Codes are Being Obeyed Without a Warrant.
Is it legal for inspectors to demand entry to a home in order to see if codes are being obeyed? The short answer is, under New Jersey's interpretation of the Fourth Amendment, no, not without a warrant, or permission of the owner, or an emergency such as a fire. That is because such inspections are administrative searches governed by the Fourth Amendment. So, in State v. Heine, when a Garfield, New Jersey inspector demanded entry into a home without a warrant and the stubborn landlady wouldn't let him inside, she was within her right to refuse and her conviction was overturned on appeal.
The Supreme Court Has Now Ruled That Police Cannot Attach a GPS to a Car Without a Warrant.
Is it legal for the police to attach a GPS to a car? Not without a warrant. Even though the police are allowed to follow a vehicle on the public streets, the act of attaching the device to the undercarriage of the car trespassed onto private property and was impermissible. The evidence gathered from the GPS could not be used at trial.
The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same.
What does the future hold? As technology has changed, legal analysis expanded in the last century to include privacy expectations. Yet, for more than two hundred years and into the foreseeable future, the analysis always returns to the language of the durable and enduring Fourth Amendment.
If you have a Fourth Amendment issue and would like to discuss it with an attorney please contact Law Offices of Joseph R. Donahue, LLC at (201) 488-7707.