The U.S. Justice Department is moving forward with a third trial in the drug case against the Washington man at the center of the debate over law enforcement’s use of global positioning system devices to track suspects.
Lawyers for the man, Antoine Jones, won a key victory in January in the U.S. Supreme Court, which said the warrantless use of GPS devices to clandestinely monitor a person’s movement violates Fourth Amendment privacy rights.
The authorities relied in large part on data from GPS monitoring—a device was attached to Jones’ vehicle—to link him to an alleged drug stash house in Maryland. When investigators raided the house in 2005, they seized nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine and $850,000 in cash.
An assistant U.S. attorney, John Geise, told a federal judge in Washington today that the government is preparing to retry Jones for his alleged role in a cocaine trafficking conspiracy. An appeals court in 2010 erased Jones’ conviction and tossed his life sentence.
The government, Geise said, is trying to track down witnesses for the trial, which he expected to be scheduled sometime later this year, perhaps as early as this summer. Geise said prosecutors could decide to rely on earlier testimony from those witnesses.
Geise said prosecutors are examining evidence not related to the data investigators obtained from the GPS device.
Jones’ lawyer, A. Eduardo Balarezo, a Washington solo practitioner, said in court today that he anticipates he will challenge the admissibility of any evidence that flowed from the tracking of his client.
Jones, jailed since his arrest in 2005, has tried unsuccessfully several times to win his freedom since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit invalidated his conviction.
“We’d like to have a trial sooner rather than later, given that he has now been incarcerated for about seven years,” Balarezo told reporters after the hearing.
Balarezo said he doesn’t expect a substantively different trial this time around—save for the absence of the GPS data. The lack of that evidence “will leave a gap” for prosecutors, he said.
For Jones, who was in court today, the trial will be his third. The first jury acquitted him on most charges. Prosecutors later retried him only on the conspiracy count. A jury in 2008 convicted him on that charge, which carried a mandatory life sentence.
The litigation over the GPS surveillance drew national attention earlier this year. Lawyers for Jones, represented in the appeals court by Stephen Leckar, argued that police needed a warrant to secretly follow him around for nearly a month.
The Supreme Court on Jan. 23 ruled for Jones, saying that the secret installation of a global positioning system device violated Fourth Amendment privacy rights. Leckar of Washington’s Shainis & Peltzman argued for Jones in the Supreme Court.
DOJ lawyers argued the surveillance was lawful because Jones, driving on public streets, had no expectation of privacy.
The high court did not go so far as to order law enforcement agents to obtain a warrant before installing a tracking device.
The government initially had a warrant to install the device. That warrant, which expired, was valid only in the District of Columbia. Investigators later re-attached the GPS device, after the warrant period was over, in Maryland.
Ellen Segal Huvelle, the Washington federal trial judge overseeing the Jones case, said she would meet Monday with Geise and Balarezo to set a trial date.