Using GPS devices in criminal investigations is gaining popularity with law enforcement. Law enforcement departments throughout the country are using this form of technology to track a suspect’s movement and gather evidence to support criminal charges. In some cases, state law allows for the use of these small devices in this manner.
But what happens if the suspect notices the device and removes it?
Police request search warrant for removal of GPS unit
A recent case delves into this scenario. In the case, officers placed a small, unmarked GPS unit on a suspect’s vehicle. The device provided officers with tracking information for almost a week before it suddenly stopped sending data. Police guessed that the mysterious stoppage was because the vehicle owner removed the device. This led police to request a search warrant based on a claim that the man’s removal of the GPS device constituted a theft.
The request was approved. While executing the search warrant, the police discovered not only the missing GPS unit but also methamphetamine. As a result, the officers arrested the man and prosecutors have charged him with multiple drug crimes.
Man fights back, argues removal of unknown device from his vehicle does not provide probable cause
The man and his legal team built a defense around the premise of the search warrant. Generally, to get a search warrant, the requesting officers must be able to prove that they have probable cause for criminal activity. But was it criminal to remove the GPS unit?
The case is winding its way through the court systems. The most recent holding, from a state supreme court, agreed with the accused. This means the search warrant was illegal. As a result, the evidence was not admissible in court – which would likely lead to the dismissal of charges.