In January’s Supreme Court case, U.S. v. Jones, the high court held that tracking a vehicle’s movements by placing a GPS tracking device on it without first obtaining a search warrant is unconstitutional.
That ruling set off an earthquake under the Justice Department, evidenced this week with reports that the FBI has turned off some 3,000 GPS tracking devices that were in use.
FBI General Counsel Andrew Weissman told a University of San Francisco conference appropriately titled “Big Brother in the 21st Century” that the FBI had had problems locating some of the turned off devices and had sought court orders to get permission to briefly turn them on again, so agents can locate and retrieve them. The Supreme Court decision had caused “a sea change” at Justice, he said.
The Jones case may have been a victory for civil liberties and constitutional rights advocates, but Antoine Jones is still sitting in prison, reported Alternet.
Determined to nail the former Washington, DC, nightclub owner, federal prosecutors have announced they will seek to retry Jones without the evidence garnered by the GPS tracking device, and they want him securely behind bars until they get around to doing so.
The decision to not free Jones even though his conviction has been vacated and his case sent back to the trial court is of a piece with prosecutors’ earlier tactics. After Jones won his case on appeal, prosecutors argued successfully then against granting him bail as they awaited a Supreme Court decision.
They think they have a big time dope dealer. Back in 2005, when the case began, Jones was targeted by the FBI and other federal and state police agencies as a major player in a multi-million dollar cocaine ring with ties to a Mexico-based organized crime group. Investigators said Jones and his co-conspirators distributed cocaine throughout the DC metro area. They eventually won a conviction against him, although it took them two separate prosecutions to do so. It was that conviction that was reversed by the Supreme Court.
Veteran Houston-based crime beat reporter Clarence Walker has been in communication with Jones via mail and the occasional phone call for the past several years. He’s also been talking to Jones’ appellate attorney, Stephan Leckar, who is exploring a possible plea bargain, although Jones doesn’t appear interested in anything less than complete exoneration.
While Jones is pleased with the Supreme Court decision, he’s not so pleased with the fact he is still being denied his freedom.
“All I can say I am very happy with the Supreme Court decision and I hope the decision helps millions of Americans preserve their right to have reasonable expectation of privacy,” Jones told Walker in a phone interview this month. “The ruling came right on time because who knows how many American citizens the government continues to track and monitor for weeks and months without a warrant. Even some of the men here in prison with me have warrantless GPS issues, like a friend of mines named Sigmund James. The government tracked his vehicle for 14 months.”
James was convicted in a massive cocaine trafficking case in Orangeburg, South Carolina, an operation called “Bitter Orange.” Like Jones, James was sentenced to life without parole.