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Published: Friday, 3/2/2012

Lawyer speaks on top court's privacy ruling

Attorney Stephen C. Leckar Attorney Stephen C. Leckar
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Moments before arguing to the U.S. Supreme Court his client's Fourth Amendment right against warrantless GPS surveillance, attorney Stephen Leckar learned the case was being billed as "the Super Bowl of privacy."

That turned the "thrilling experience of arguing a case before the Supreme Court," into one that was just as terrifying, he said.

A Washington attorney, Mr. Leckar spoke to a group of about 100 Thursday at the University of Toledo College of Law. As part of the school's Day After Speaker Series, Mr. Leckar offered insight on the issues of the recently decided case.

"The Jones case really represents, I think, the tip of the iceberg," Mr. Leckar said of the Supreme Court's Jan. 23 decision in U.S. vs. Jones. "… There will be a lot coming down the road where it will be questioned whether the government will be required to get a warrant."

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously in January that police violated the Constitution when they placed a Global Positioning System tracking device on the vehicle of Antoine Jones and monitored his movement for 28 days. Justices varied in their rationale, but most of the justices opined that the problem was the placement of the device on private property without a warrant or consent.

Mr. Leckar said the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case so as to resolve two questions: "Whether the warrantless use of a GPS tracking device on respondent's vehicle to monitor its movements on public streets violated the Fourth Amendment" and "Whether the government violated respondent's Fourth Amendment right by attaching a GPS tracking device to his vehicle without a valid warrant and without his consent."

Mr. Leckar said the justices decided putting the device on a car without a warrant constituted a search. They did not consider the issue of seizure, he said.

Law student Matthew Boehringer attended the presentation, noting that the court reaching a unanimous opinion was "impressive." A former school teacher, Mr. Boehringer said he often heard his students theorize that "if the government does it, it must be OK."

"Hopefully, it's a sign of the government being more cautious," said Mr. Boehringer, 31, of Petersburg, Mich. "It shows [people] need to question."

Jones was convicted of a conspiracy drug count by a federal jury during a trial in January, 2008, and was sentenced to life in prison. His conviction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in August, 2010, which decided the police action was a search because it violated Jones' reasonable expectation of privacy.

Toledo attorney Jack Leizerman spent his lunch hour at the presentation, saying he is interested in the issue of privacy, not only as a lawyer but as a citizen.

"It seems like we're so visible now, with the Internet and cell phones and debit cards ... ," said Mr. Leizerman, 54. "It's important to know how the courts and the judiciary view this."

The Day After Speakers is in its 11th year. Each year, the school invites a lawyer who has argued before the Supreme Court to share his or her experience and to discuss the case.

Contact Erica Blake at: eblake@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.

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