7th Circuit upholds use of GPS unit on car in 2011

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a defendant’s claim that his motion to suppress drugs and guns found by police at a storage locker through the use of a GPS unit should have been granted because attaching the device to his car for purposes of gathering information was a search under the Fourth Amendment.

Police suspected Dwan Taylor possessed cocaine or firearms and an investigation led to a deputy prosecutor in Marion County submitting a petition to the Superior Court in September 2011 for judicial approval to attach a GPS unit to Taylor’s car for 60 days. The request called for the device to be attached to the exterior of the car, powered by an internal battery or by the car’s battery, and installed while the car was in a public place or private property where the general public would have access to the car.

The petition was granted and the GPS unit led police to a storage unit where, after obtaining a search warrant, they discovered cocaine, firearms and digital scales. The search warrant did not say that GPS led officers to the unit but that “surveillance” did.

Taylor argued the evidence was the fruit of an unlawful search and cited United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012), which held the installation of a GPS device on a car is a search for Fourth Amendment purposes. The District Court denied the motion to suppress on the ground that law enforcement had reasonably relied on judicial authorization when using the GPS. While his case was pending, the 7th Circuit issued United States v. Brown, 744 F.3d 474 (7th Cir. 2012), which applied the good-faith exception in Davis to the use of a GPS device to track a car in 2006. This decision confirmed that Garcia and Cuevas-Perez were binding appellate precedent establishing that “installation of a GPS device, and the use of the location data it produces, are not within the scope of the [F]ourth [A]mendment.”

The District judge previously held that Davis’ good-faith exception didn’t apply and that United States v. Garcia, 474 F.3d 994 (7th Cir. 2007), and United States v. Cuevas-Perez, 640 F.3d 272 (7th Cir. 2011), were distinguishable because the GPS devices used in those cases did not draw power from the car’s battery, were not installed while the car was parked on private property, and did not track the car’s movement for 60 days. But after Brown came down, she added a supplemental entry to the docket, explaining Brown’s characterization of Garcia and Cuevas-Perez differed from her earlier analysis and supported the government’s position that Davis’ good-faith exception did apply to the GPS tracking of Taylor’s car.

 After pleading guilty, Taylor appealed in United States of America v. Dwan Rashid Taylor, 14-1981.

Taylor contended that the District Court erred by relying on Brown to conclude that Davis’ good-faith exception applied to the GPS tracking of his car. He claimed that Brown was not meant to state a ‘blanket rule,’ but rested instead on the narrow ground that the police had obtained the owner’s consent before attaching the GPS device to the car.

“We disagree. The district court correctly concluded that Brown supports the application of Davis’s good-faith exception here. Brown makes clear that Garcia and Cuevas-Perez are pre-Jones binding circuit precedent,” the per curiam opinion states. “Brown also establishes that Davis’s good-faith exception more generally applies to pre-Jones use of GPS devices to track a suspect’s car based on earlier Supreme Court precedent.”

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