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GPS and Your Fourth Amendment Rights – Sabrina M. Dolson, Esq.

Sabrina DolsonThe Supreme Court of Nevada recently issued a decision regarding whether it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment for law enforcement to locate a person for whom they have an arrest warrant by retrieving that person’s Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates from his cell phone. Meisler v. State, 130 Nev. Adv. Op. 30 (Apr. 3, 2014).

In Meisler v. State, Michael Meisler began sending threatening emails, text messages, and letters to Janice Tebo after their romantic relationship ended. After investigating several reports made by Tebo, the Douglas County Sheriff obtained an arrest warrant for Meisler. In order to locate Meisler, a sheriff’s investigator obtained Meisler’s GPS coordinates from his cell phone provider. Based on this information, police officers arrested Meisler in a public parking lot. During the arrest, Meisler requested that the officers retrieve his cell phone from his vehicle. The officers kept Meisler’s cell phone with his belongings while he was in custody and until they were able to obtain a valid search warrant for the contents of the phone. The search of the cell phone revealed numerous text messages supporting Tebo’s allegations and, eventually, Meisler’s conviction for aggravated stalking, a felony. Meisler requested that the district court suppress the text messages. The district court denied his request and held that law enforcement was not required to obtain a warrant prior to using his phone GPS coordinates to locate him. Meisler appealed.

            On appeal, Meisler argued that the officers violated his Fourth Amendment rights by using his cell phone’s GPS coordinates to locate him without first obtaining a search warrant. The Supreme Court of Nevada held that “an arrest warrant that justified the physical invasion of the home also justifies a digital invasion into a defendant’s cell phone for the purpose of locating the defendant.” The Court reasoned that if the Fourth Amendment permits physical invasion of a person’s home, it must also permit officers to use a person’s GPS coordinates from his cell phone to locate him because that is a lessor personal invasion. The Court held that because the officers had a valid arrest warrant that would justify entry into Meisler’s home, the arrest warrant also authorized the officers to obtain his cell phone’s GPS coordinates for the purpose of locating him. Thus, police officers can locate a person by obtaining his or her cell phone’s GPS coordinates when the officers first obtain a valid arrest warrant without violating the Fourth Amendment.

-Sabrina M. Dolson, Esq.

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