D.Colo.: GPS tracking a car after it had been sold by target was unreasonable

Defendant bought a car that had a GPS device placed by the police with a 60 day tracking warrant. He paid for it for his girlfriend, with whom he had a child, and he drove it at the time of the stop and considered it his car, too. He had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the car because his interest was beyond mere possession. Tracking the car after it was sold to defendant was unreasonable, and the officer should have known it. Even the driver’s patterns all changed to indicate somebody else had the car. The officers saw signs on the car before that it was for sale. United States v. Wood, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27086 (D.Colo. Feb. 25, 2017):

The evidence becomes problematic for the officers when viewed in conjunction with the electronic tracking data, which showed a dramatic departure in the behavior of the driver of the 2001 White BMW shortly after the “For Sale” sign was first observed. For the first twenty-five days of electronic tracking, the 2001 White BMW was returning to the residence of S.B. nearly every day. In early July, the data shows an abrupt change in the resting location of the vehicle, an address with no known association to S.B. Moreover, the vehicle never returns to S.B.’s residence, and S.B. is never again observed operating the vehicle.

The most telling evidence is the report and testimony of Detective Garnett himself. In his report of July 13, Detective Garnett writes that he “wanted to conduct surveillance” of the vehicle on July 8 “to see if my previous suspect was still driving the vehicle or if it still had the same plate number.” His words strongly imply a suspicion that the vehicle had changed hands. Even if it were possible to construe those words differently, Detective Garnett plainly admitted during the suppression hearing that he decided to surveil the 2001 White BMW on July 8 because he doubted S.B. was still operating the vehicle.

Taken together, the evidence and Detective Garnett’s own admissions demonstrate beyond mere inference that he had “notice of the risk” that he was pursuing a warrant unsupported by probable cause. Indeed, it was his apparent expectation that a person other than S.B. was operating the vehicle, and he endeavored to identify that individual on July 8. After all, if the priority had been locating S.B., it would have been more efficacious to return to S.B.’s residence to determine his whereabouts. Tellingly, Detective Garnett testified that no efforts were made to observe S.B. at his residence or elsewhere after tracking data indicated the dramatic change in the location of the 2001 White BMW.

The Court recognizes that granting a motion to suppress in a case like this is an extraordinary remedy. However, it is the extraordinary duty of law enforcement officers to ensure that they pursue their important work with an appropriate regard for the foundational constitutional rights of those they police. Here, the executing officers had reason to believe that they were prosecuting a search without probable cause, and forged ahead anyway. For that reason, the Court must suppress.

This entry was posted in GPS / Tracking Data, Staleness, Warrant execution. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.