Fourth Amendment

State supreme court rules for man charged with theft for removing GPS planted on his car by cops

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Thursday for an Indiana man who was charged with theft for allegedly removing a GPS tracking device from his vehicle that had been planted there by officers.

The state supreme court ruled that warrants obtained to search for the device in Derek Heuring’s home and barn were invalid because there was no probable cause that the device was stolen. As a result, evidence obtained in the search cannot be used, the court said.

Warrick County Sheriff Department officers had obtained a warrant and attached the GPS to Heuring’s Ford Expedition in July 2018 because they believed he was dealing methamphetamine.

Police suspected something was amiss when the GPS stopped providing location updates after the first week. A technician said the device needed a “hard reset” because it may have been unplugged and plugged back into the battery. An officer went to retrieve the device, but it was no longer attached to the SUV.

Officers who conducted the search for the missing device after obtaining a warrant found drugs, drug paraphernalia and a handgun. Each search was stopped to obtain warrants to search the house and barn for narcotics. Officers found the GPS and “additional contraband,” the state supreme court said.

All of the evidence must be suppressed because the initial warrant was invalid, the state supreme court said.

Affidavits filed by the officers in support of the search warrant failed to establish probable cause in two respects, the court said.

First the warrants lacked information that the person who removed the GPS device was aware of the need to get consent from the sheriff’s department.

The officers’ affidavits “support a fair probability only that Heuring—or someone—found a small, unmarked black box attached to the vehicle, did not know what (or whose) the box was, and then took it off the car,” the court said.

Second, the affidavits lacked information that there was an intent to deprive the sheriff’s department of the value or use of the GPS device.

“The affidavits support nothing more than speculation—a hunch that someone removed the device with the conscious objective to deprive the sheriff’s department of its value or use,” the court said.

Because the affidavits were “so lacking in indicia of probable cause,” officers cannot use the evidence under a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule, the court said.

Heuring’s attorney, Michael Keating, told the Evansville Courier & Press he was pleased with the decision. “Anytime you get the Indiana Supreme Court to agree with you, you feel pretty good,” Keating said.

Ars Technica had prior coverage of the case, via How Appealing.

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