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Supreme Court’s Decision on Warrantless Use of GPS

Unwarranted Use of GPS Tracker in Ohio Burglary Case

The Ohio Supreme Court will review an Appeals Court reversal of a Columbus man’s conviction for breaking into a home near Baltimore, Ohio.

David L. White, 24, pleaded no contest in November 2010, to improperly discharging a firearm into or at a habitation, aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery. White was sentenced to 25 years in prison altogether, with 13 years suspended.

He was accused of breaking into a home on January 23, 2010, near Baltimore with co-defendant Montie E. Sullivan. Sullivan, 19, of Columbus, pleaded no contest in October 2010 to one count of improperly discharging a firearm into a habitation and one count of aggravated burglary. He was sentenced to 19 years in prison.

According to the police report, White and Sullivan broke into a home near Baltimore, shot and killed the resident’s dog and then ransacked the home, taking with them cash and electronics. Fortunately, the resident was able to escape without any injuries before the two entered through a glass door. After looting the house, White and Sullivan fled in a vehicle that was being tracked by local law enforcement officials.

Police were able to locate and track the two men to their apartment in Columbus shortly after the crime with the attached GPS tracker.

Prior to the burglary incident, Franklin County detectives had covertly placed a GPS tracking device on Sullivan’s car after they had trouble following it as it drove around Columbus and nearby counties. They suspected him of being in connection with a felony case they were investigating. However, they had not obtained a warrant before installing the GPS tracking device on Sullivan’s white Honda Civic.

On the day of the home invasion, deputies were tracking Sullivan’s car, which they had been tracking for 13 days prior to the invasion, and realized it might have been involved in the Baltimore burglary. Upon receiving news of the incident, police followed the car back to Sullivan’s Columbus home.

When law enforcement officers arrived, White and Sullivan quickly ran out the back door. At the apartment, police found and recovered the property from the Baltimore home invasion.

David White and Montie Sullivan were later captured and indicted by a grand jury.

Ripple Effects of U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision

Following White’s and Sullivan’s initial conviction, however, an Appeals Court decided 2-t0-1 that the evidence obtained from the real-time GPS tracking device, which was installed without a court-issued warrant, should be suppressed as evidence.

Fairfield County Prosecutor Gregg Marx had asked the Ohio Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court’s decision, stating that their ruling “would severely hinder the ability of law enforcement to use technology when conducting criminal investigations.”

Marx, in a news release, said that he hoped the Ohio Supreme Court “will agree that use of these devices should be allowed when law enforcement has a reasonable suspicion that a car was involved in criminal conduct. This standard would allow officers to complete initial investigations in a timely and efficient manner.”

In early 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officials would need an official court-issued warrant before using GPS technology to track suspected criminals. The Justices unanimously agreed 9-to-0 in their decision after hearing arguments on a case involving a nightclub owner and suspected cocaine dealer in Washington, D.C., whose movements were monitored for roughly 30 days with a GPS tracking device.

FBI and local law enforcement officials had initially obtained a warrant for the GPS tracker, but it had expired before they were able to attach the device to the suspect’s vehicle. The suspect was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for cocaine trafficking, however, the decision was later overturned in an appeals court after it was determined that the unwarranted data collected from the GPS tracking device, violated his Fourth Amendment rights.

Likewise, the Justices ruled that the use of the GPS tracker constituted a “search,” which mandates a warrant.

And in light of this recent landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, Marx said that he hoped the Ohio Supreme Court would rule in the state’s favor regarding their review of Sullivan’s and White’s appeals and let their original convictions stand.

“We will continue to fight for the ability of law enforcement to protect our citizens and to see that these two men receive justice for the acts they committed,” Marx said.

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