GPS Tracking Case a Win for Drug Smugglers

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Law enforcement relies to some extent on the tried and true tools of the trade. Undercover officers, confidential informants and surveillance are all part of the package. But police also adopt new technologies in an ongoing battle of oneupsmanship and an attempt to stay abreast of trends. But unlike drug dealers, cops operate under the rule of law, so when a new procedure is ruled unconstitutional, it can be a serious blow to their effectiveness.

At a time when checking cell phone memory cards and delving into someone’s computer is par for the course, police still have to be careful about crossing the line into an illegal search and seizure. This was the case when infrared scanning for the telltale signature of a house overheated by grow lights was deemed an illegal search, and it’s the case now with a ruling by the Supreme Court that GPS monitoring without a warrant is illegal.

A case was tossed out on this basis in Kentucky recently. A story out of Louisville tells how police were tipped off about a man smuggling marijuana from Chicago on a regular basis. Law enforcement thought it was a good tip, in no small part because the man in question had served more than three years in prison on drug and weapons charges. They didn’t know when he would make his next trip, so they attached a GPS device to his truck, without a warrant, and waited. Eventually, the man did make a trip north and then back to Kentucky.

Based solely on their suspicions and the GPS tracking, police stopped his vehicle on the expressway and called in the drug dogs. The dogs alerted and a subsequent search found 150 pounds of weed. But the case was thrown out after the Supreme Court ruled that placing the tracking device without a warrant constituted a violation of the right to privacy.

The ruling puts GPS tracking in the same category as a wire tap and the cops will have to show probable cause to a judge to use it in this manner.

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