Last week the New York Court of Appeals handed down its decision in People v. Weaver, a case I wrote about when oral arguments occurred in March.
At issue in Weaver was whether GPS tracking device evidence obtained by law enforcement without a warrant should have been suppressed.
The disputed evidence was obtained after a GPS tracking device was placed on the defendant’s car in the absence of a warrant and his movements were tracked for 65 days without his knowledge. He was eventually arrested and charged with 2 counts of burglary, for which he was later convicted.
The Appellate Division, Third Department, concluded that the evidence obtained from the GPS device was admissible since the defendant had no expectation of privacy regarding movements that would have been visible via the naked eye.
In my earlier article, I vehemently disagreed with this conclusion, urging that the constitutional interpretation of our laws must conform to the ever-changing technological landscape, and that the failure to do so would render our laws and constitutional protections obsolete:
I was pleased to learn that the New York Court of Appeals agreed, ruling that the evidence was inadmissible.
The Court noted that GPS technology does not simply enhance the senses, but rather allows a “new technological perception” that could not otherwise be obtained without massive amounts of manpower, equipment and funding.
Also of importance to the Court in reaching its determination was the vast amount of personal information that could be collected via constant GPS tracking of a person’s whereabouts, including the individual’s political, professional, religious and amorous associations.
Accordingly, the Court concluded that the evidence should have been suppressed pursuant to the New York State Constitution:
Judge Smith, Judge Read and Judge Graffeo dissented. In Judge Smith’s dissent, he asserted that the majority’s holding amounted to the constitutionally unsupportable proposition that certain technological devices were too advanced to be utilized by law enforcement in the absence of a warrant.
To an extent, I agree with Judge Smith—the majority’s holding encompasses the idea that the complexity and invasiveness of emerging technologies warrants judicial scrutiny of the methods utilized by law enforcement in order to prevent abuse. We part ways to the extent that he asserts that this proposition is unconstitutional.
Rather, the majority’s holding is simply an acknowledgement that the right to be free from unlawful governmental intrusions must not be permitted to be whittled away in the face of increasingly intrusive technologies.
Simply put, in New York, the right to privacy should always remain paramount.
It is, for that very reason, that Weaver is one of those heartening decisions that makes me proud to be a New Yorker. It is rare that a lone opinion is able to single-handedly restore my faith in the judicial process and the protections offered by our State Constitution. People v. Weaver is just such a case.