In 2010, the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the court of appeals for New Jersey, determined that if a lower court required a warrant before police could find someone by using his or her cellphone, that demand would be valid. The problem is, however, that this ruling is not universal and there are a variety of different procedures across the country on how police can or cannot use cellphone towers to locate an individual without a warrant. This kind of problem can really only be solved by the Supreme Court of the United States.
The more differences within the criminal justice system, the harder it is for individuals to comply with the law. This is true of both police officers and civilians, but with police officers it can be particularly important. The way that police investigate their cases can have a very important effect on the outcome of a New Jersey resident’s case.
If the police follow the rules, the individual’s rights will be protected, but if the police do whatever they want, or do what they mistakenly believe to be legal, they may uncover information that they would otherwise not be privy to, exposing the defendant to potentially serious consequences.
As of now, the Supreme Court has decided to pass on a case that would determine one way or the other whether police would need to obtain a probable-cause warrant before using an individual’s cellphone to track him or her. It may be that the court is waiting on a few more appellate circuits to decide on the case before taking it up.
Source: Wired, “Courts Can’t Agree on Whether Cops Can Track Your Cell Without a Warrant,” David Kravets, July 3, 2013