James City County Police claim that a GPS tracking device has led to the arrest of a man who is now accused of a burglary at a time share unit in Williamsburg Plantation. Law enforcement says that a GPS device has attached to a 40" TV in the time share unit that police claim was later burglarized. Police say that devices were planted after earlier reports of break-ins.
Law enforcement tracked the TV to a home and later searched the residence. Police claim that other stolen items were seized during the raid. A 37-year-old man is accused of running out a back door as police approached the residence. He was arrested on suspicion of burglary. James City County officials say that additional criminal charges may flow from the investigation.
Last January, the United States Supreme Court handed down a ruling that says the use of a hidden GPS tacking device on a defendant's vehicle constituted a search and was therefore subject to the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure procedures.
At the federal level, questions remain about how the government is currently using GPS and other tools in locating people. A spokesperson for the ACLU says that the federal government has only supplied highly redacted versions of two memos that the Department of Justice drafted to provide federal law enforcement agents with guidance in using tracking tools.
The ACLU was seeking general information. In a criminal case, a defendant and his or her attorney generally has the right to know how the government obtained information during an investigation.
Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues pop up frequently throughout the area of criminal law. Obviously, local law enforcement agencies across the country are also interested in law enforcement techniques, but state officials cannot violate the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.
However, subtle nuances in the facts can change the legal analysis drastically. Last year's Supreme Court ruling did not necessarily make GPS devices themselves unconstitutional-the ruling reviewed the specific use and whether or not that use required a warrant.
Criminal defense lawyers often seek to challenge evidence obtained in a criminal investigation when it appears that the government violated the Constitution in seeking to obtain the evidence. It is important to note that constitutional arguments are complex, and may not always involve bright line rules.
Anyone accused or suspected of a crime in the Hampton Roads area should consider seeking legal advice as soon as possible after allegations arise for advice and representation in dealing with authorities and the court system.
- WAVY 10 On Your Side, "GPS leads police to television thief," Jan. 17, 2013
- NBC News, "ACLU to Justice Dept.: Tell us how cops use GPS to track Americans," Wilson Rothman, Jan. 18, 2013