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150 lbs of Marijuana Evidence Ruled Inadmissible Due to Warrantless GPS Tracking


"...the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee..."

(Photo: Wikimedia)

State prosecutors might find it hard to swallow that 150 pounds of marijuana they discovered in a Kentucky man's vehicle -- and the confession they received from him -- won't be allowed as evidence in their case against him for conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Why? They tracked Robert Dale Lee car using a GPS device installed without a warrant.

(Related: Supreme Court rules GPS tracking requires a warrant)

According to the Associated Press, the 49-year-old man's car was tracked to and from Kentucky into Chicago using GPS as "part of an inter-state drug probe." Kentucky State Troopers stopped Lee when he crossed state lines for not wearing a seat belt and in a search of the vehicle with a drug-sniffing dog found the large amount of pot.

“In this case, the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee,” Judge Amul R. Thapar wrote. “Admittedly, the agents did not intend to break the law. But, they installed a GPS device on Lee’s car without a warrant in the hope that something might turn up.”

According to the AP, Lee confessed after the marijuana was found, which was a "direct result of the traffic stop and search," according to Thapar.

“Without GPS tracking data, the DEA agents would not have known that Lee traveled to Chicago (his source for drugs), that he was returning to Kentucky along I-75, or his exact position,” Thapur wrote.

Wired reports that this ruling is contradictory to what a few other states have ruled for warrantless GPS cases that were in process before the Supreme Court ruled earlier in 2012 that installation of the devices without a warrant is unconstitutional:

Because three U.S. District courts ruled prior to the Supreme Court decision that the use of GPS trackers without a warrant was lawful, federal judges in those districts — which cover 19 states as well as Guam and the Mariana Islands — have found that law enforcement agents and prosecutors in their regions can use a so-called “good faith exception” to support warrantless GPS surveillance in pending cases where data was gathered prior to the Supreme Court ruling.

Circuit courts in the 7th (covering Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana), 8th (covering Arkansas, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota) and 9th (covering Alaska, Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, the Mariana Islands, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington) all ruled prior to the Supreme Court case that warrantless GPS tracking was legal.

Judges in two other GPS cases in California and Hawaii, both in the 9th Circuit where a precedent ruling exists, asserted the same “good faith” exception in March.

The exception comes from a 2011 Supreme Court case, Davis v. United States (.pdf), which allows a good-faith exception for searches that reasonably relied on binding precedents that were later found to be faulty.

No trial date has been set for Lee's case as of yet.

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