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Police following drug package wire into home unconstitutional, COA rules

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Police violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure when they used a parcel wire to track the opening of a shipment of marijuana in an Indianapolis man’s home, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Tuesday.

There were no exigent circumstances excepting the warrant requirement, the panel ruled, upholding the Marion Superior Court’s grant of a motion to suppress evidence. The state appealed that ruling, and the Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed in State of Indiana v. Gregory Lagrone, 49A05-1203-CR-135.

Lagrone was charged with Class D felony counts of dealing marijuana and possession of marijuana after police intercepted a package of marijuana shipped to a hotel in northwest Indianapolis, placed a GPS device and a “parcel wire” into the package, and called Lagrone to pick it up.

Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers followed Lagrone after he picked up the package and waited for a signal from the parcel wire that would be triggered when the package was opened and exposed to light.

When police received a signal the package was open, they knocked on the door and announced themselves as police, but no one answered. They forcibly entered the home, secured it and then requested and obtained a warrant. The trial court granted Lagrone’s motion to suppress evidence recovered from the search.

“We conclude that the warrantless use of the parcel wire to monitor the package within Lagrone’s house violated the Fourth Amendment,” Judge Edward Najam wrote for the panel. “Due to that violation … the State cannot justify its warrantless intrusion into Lagrone’s home under the exigent circumstances exception to the Fourth Amendment.”

The ruling did not place restrictions on the use of GPS systems and parcel wires as investigatory tools, however.

“In sum, we conclude that the installation of the GPS device and the parcel wire into the package Lagrone picked up from the hotel did not violate the Fourth Amendment because any privacy interest Lagrone had in the package was lost when UPS opened the package,” Najam wrote. “Nor did the police monitoring of the GPS device to track the package en route to Lagrone’s home violate the Fourth Amendment, because officers also tracked Lagrone on the highway visually. Moreover, the evidence presented does not show that the GPS monitoring continued after Lagrone carried the package into his home.

“But the police then monitored the package without a warrant via the parcel wire after the package was inside Lagrone’s home. The information obtained from that device, namely, that the package had been opened, could not have been observed from outside the home. As such, the receipt of that information via the parcel wire without a warrant violated Lagrone’s Fourth Amendment rights.”






 

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