Do peace officers violate the Fourth Amendment by attaching (and monitoring) a GPS device to a confidential informant’s rented vehicle that’s driven by a suspect?
No, if the GPS was placed on the vehicle before the suspect took possession of it.
A police detective investigating a drug operation received a tip from his confidential informant (CI) that one of the suspects wanted the CI to rent a vehicle for a drug transport. The detective rented a Chevy HHR and attached a GPS device underneath the car’s rear bumper for tracking the vehicle’s movements and arranged for police to conduct visual surveillance on the vehicle. He delivered the car to his CI.
A few days later, two suspects, Daniel Rubio and Santiago Sanchez drove the vehicle to a grocery store parking lot, where they met up with others, including Aron Rich, who arrived in a separate vehicle. Rich went inside the grocery store and left 20 minutes later. He got into the Chevy HHR by himself and drove it away. The officers who were conducting surveillance on the vehicle followed Rich and the other suspects’ vehicle, but at some point the two cars split up. Rich then pulled into another grocery store and met up again with Rubio, Sanchez, and two other suspects. They all left the second grocery store in three separate vehicles a short time later. At that time, police stopped all the suspects’ vehicles and found a locked toolbox with eight kilograms of cocaine in the back of the Chevy HHR. Rubio was driving the HHR at that time, but different police officers conducting physical surveillance observed Rich driving it at some point. Rich moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that placing the GPS on the HHR’s bumper violated Rich’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Why this case is important:
The court found no Fourth Amendment violations here. First, even though Rich claimed he had a possessory interest in the HHR that allowed him to challenge law enforcement’s placement and use of the GPS, the court held that Rich’s permission to drive the vehicle didn’t give him a “legitimate (objective) expectation of privacy” in the vehicle. Therefore, he technically had no standing to claim his rights were violated. Also, when applying the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis from the Jones
GPS case, the police here didn’t commit any trespass by placing a GPS on the vehicle. The device was attached to the vehicle before
Rich took possession and drove it. Finally, Rich was “several times removed” from having a reasonable expectation of privacy in the HHR, because he received permission to drive the vehicle from two of the other suspects. They got permission from the police CI, who got the car from the police detective.
Keep in mind:
This case seems to give the green light for law enforcement to place GPS devices on a CI’s vehicle as long as it’s placed on the vehicle before a suspect would have the opportunity to take possession of it.
Visit the Ohio Supreme Court’s website
to view the entire opinion.