In what could be a landmark “right to privacy” decision, the Arizona Supreme Court has ruled that police violated the law when they used a GPS device to track a truck driver without a warrant.
Warrantless Use Of GPS Tracker A Violation Of Fourth Amendment, Says Court
On Wednesday, a majority in the court ruled that Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers who placed a GPS device on a semi truck without a warrant because they suspected was that the vehicle was involved in criminal activity were acting unlawfully. A majority of the justices found that people in vehicles — including truck drivers — have a reasonable expectation of privacy and freedom from government surveillance that was violated by the warrantless use of a GPS device.
From the majority decision: “We conclude that passengers traveling with the owner in a private vehicle generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is invaded by the government’s continually tracking the vehicle through a surreptitious GPS tracking device.”
The ruling stemmed from a February 2010 incident that led to the conviction of 45 year old truck driver Emilio Jean on charges of money laundering and transportation of marijuana.
According to court documents, Jean and the owner of the truck, David Velez-Colon, were making a trip that originated in Georgia when DPS officers became suspicious that the truck was being used for criminal activity. The officers placed a GPS tracking device on the truck — without a warrant.
Two days after the GPS device was placed on the truck, investigators instructed DPS to pull the truck over on eastbound I-40 after it had reentered Arizona from California. Jean was resting in the sleeper berth when the truck was pulled over. When officers searched the truck, they found ninety-five bales of marijuana weighing a total of 2140 pounds.
Court Elects To Uphold Drug Trafficking And Money Laundering Convictions
Jean was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Velez-Colon made a plea deal and later testified against Jean.
Jean’s legal team appealed the conviction, arguing that because the GPS device was used to unlawfully track and monitor him, the drugs that the officers discovered when they searched the truck should not be used to convict him.
In spite of the fact that the court ruled that the officers violated Jean’s Fourth Amendment rights, his conviction and sentence were upheld.