United States v. Karo 468 U.S. 705, 104 S. Ct. 3296, 82 L. Ed.2d 530 (1984)
The DEA put a tracking device
in a can of ether (used to make illegal drugs).
The police had obtained a
warrant to put the tracking device in the can.
Karo picked up the ether from
an informant, it was transported around for a while, and it eventually
ended up in a house rented by Karo, Horton, and Harley.
As it was transported
around, DEA followed it, and made visual observations of the people of
the people who were moving it.
Based on the tracking device
data and their visual observations, DEA got a warrant to search the house,
where they found lots of drugs. Karo and others were arrested for drug
It seems that the group had
imported clothes soaked in cocaine, and was using the ether to extract
the cocaine from the clothing.
At trial, Karo made a motion
to suppress the evidence, claiming that the tracking device represented an
illegal search of his house and was therefore a violation of the 4th
The Trial Judge granted the
motion to suppress and dismissed the charges. The prosecutor appealed.
The Trial Judge found that
the installation of the tracking device was a violation of the 4th
Amendmentright to privacy.
The Appellate Court affirmed.
The prosecutor appealed.
The US Supreme Court found
that the use of the tracking device to get information from inside the
home was a violation of the 4th Amendment.
The US Supreme Court found
that the installation of the tracking device was not a search and
The ether was not in the
possession of Karo when the tracking device was installed. It was also
installed with the permission of the owner.
Is that fundamentally the
same as obtaining evidence by having an informant wear a tape recorder
to gather evidence?
Plus, just installing the
device wasn't a search at all. It was only the monitoring and tracking
that could be considered a search.
However, the Court found
that the 4th Amendment
was still violated when the police used the tracking device to obtain
information that could not have been obtained by visual surveillance.
The police used the
tracking device to determine what was occurring inside of a house. That
constituted a violation of the 4th Amendment because they didn't have a legitimate
probable cause and so the warrant was invalid.
"The monitoring of an
electronic device such as a beeper is, of course, less intrusive than a
full-scale search, but it does reveal a critical fact about the
interior of the premises that the Government is extremely interested in
knowing and that it could not have otherwise obtained without a
It was unclear what the
critical fact was. The police knew from their surveillance that the
can entered the house. The tracking device told them that it was
still in the house?
The Court found that the
visual evidence that the police had obtained by following Karo and his
cohorts around was enough probable cause to sustain the search the house, so therefore the motion to
suppress was denied.
If the cops had followed
the can and watched it go into the house, they could enter the house and
it is not legally a search since
they saw it go in.