Can the Police Attach a GPS to Your Houston, TX Car?

24 Apr 2022
Greco Neyland, PC

In plenty of detective movies and shows, police officers follow a suspect around to find out what they’re doing and where they’re going. But modern police have a much cushier option: they can track you on Google maps by the simple expedient of placing a tracking device on your vehicle.

In the 2012 case United States v. Jones, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement may attach a GPS tracking device to your car if they obtain a warrant first. In this case, the court explicitly rejected an argument that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in a person’s movement on public thoroughfares.

If police don’t have a warrant we can invoke your 4th Amendment rights and suppress any evidence linked to the GPS tracker.

In Texas, anyone can, in fact, put a GPS tracker on the outside of a vehicle even if they aren’t the owner of the vehicle, as long as they do it while the car is parked on a public street and the tracker is not placed inside the car. This is very easy to do, as modern trackers come with very powerful magnets allowing them to sit undetected on the underside of a car. They’re powered by lithium-ion batteries that let them run for up to two weeks of use. While police may need a warrant, a private detective can easily keep track of all of your movements.

You can find trackers with a Bluetooth Low Energy Scanner (BLE).

If you find one on your car and suspect it may be from the police, be careful before you remove it. In one Indiana case a suspect found the device while working on his car, removed it, and tossed it onto his kitchen table. There was nothing on it which suggested ownership by law enforcement or anyone else.

Police still used this information to obtain a search warrant for their “stolen” device, entered the home on the new warrant, and then found drugs on the property and arrested their suspect on drug charges.

If you find one that you think may have come from law enforcement, contact a lawyer right away. You might also simply leave it on your car in a public parking lot, and take an Uber or Lyft for about two weeks until the battery runs out. This won’t give police officers any new information they can use to issue a warrant, and will thwart any attempts by any private citizen to follow you around unless they’re willing to put a new device on the car. You can use the BLE to see if the device is still transmitting.

If you have any inkling that the police might have any reason to look into your affairs, contact us. We will be happy to help protect you and your rights.

See also:

What Should You Do If There’s a Warrant Out for Your Arrest in Houston, TX?

How to Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent After a Houston, TX Arrest

What Houston, TX Residents Need to Know About Illegal Search & Seizure

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