Wednesday, November 7, 2012

District court holds reasonable suspicion satisfies Jones, good faith exception requires binding precedent

In United States v. Robinson, No. S2-4:11CR00361 (E.D. Mo. 2012), the district court held that the good faith exception should not apply to GPS evidence where there was no binding precedent but also held that reasonable suspicion - rather than probable cause - is sufficient to satisfy the Supreme Court's decision in United States v. Jones.

Law enforcement had conducted surveillance on the defendant over a month and a half period. That, along with interviews they had conducted, gave them "reasonable suspicion," according to the district court judge. After the visual surveillance appeared to corroborate the interviews concerning the alleged fraudulent activity, a GPS device was installed on the defendant's car in early 2010 where it recorded data for nearly two months.

At the motion to suppress hearing, the parties made the normal arguments. The defendant argued the data should be suppressed because no warrant had been obtained, violating the Fourth Amendment according to Jones. The prosecution argued that the Davis good faith exception should apply and save the evidence from suppression. The court, interestingly, disagreed as to both.

Good Faith Exception
In its analysis of the good faith issue, the court first examined precedent as of the installation of the device, looking at Knotts (1983 beeper case), Garcia (Seventh Circuit case finding that GPS use was not a Fourth Amendment event), and Pineda-Moreno (Ninth Circuit case holding the same). Maynard (the DC Circuit case which held that it was a search and was ultimately affirmed by the Supreme Court in the restyled name of United States v. Jones) was handed down in August - nearly five months after the GPS device in the present case had stopped tracking the defendant.

The court acknowledged that most courts in the Seventh and Ninth Circuits apply the good faith exception where GPS has been used prior to Jones, but the more challenging issue is what happens outside of those circuits. Ultimately, the judge held that the Davis good faith rule should not apply here, finding that it only protects law enforcement action where there was binding precedent.

The language of Davis is narrow, and quite specific. In discussing whether the police were culpable, the majority in Davis noted "the officers' conduct was in strict compliance with then-binding Circuit law." Davis, at 2428-29. The opinion repeatedly references "binding" authority, see, e.g., id., at 2428, 2429, 2431, 2434; the majority did not reference "generally accepted authority." Indeed, the majority specifically noted that the situation might be different with "defendants in jurisdictions in which the question remains open."
Also discussed was the need for caution when dealing with technology. "[O]ne may not simply assume that prior case law authorizes conduct when it deals with different technology, is perhaps installed in a different fashion, or permits a different degree of intrusion," reasoned the court.

Reasonable Suspicion
Nonetheless, the court, relying on binding precedent in Marquez, found that the GPS evidence would not be suppressed because reasonable suspicion existed, making the search reasonable. In Marquez, the Eighth Circuit held that GPS installation on a car parked in a public place with reasonable suspicion for a reasonable period of time does not require a warrant.

The defendant argued that Marquez had been abrogated by the Supreme Court's decision in Jones. The court, however, disagreed as it determined that Jones did not specify what level of suspicion is necessary for use of a GPS device. As Marquez had done so and determined that reasonable suspicion was sufficient, that decision was still good law.

Thus, the motion to suppress was denied because reasonable suspicion existed.

Thanks to Jed, a loyal reader, for pointing out this case to us.


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