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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Ind. Decisions - "Warrant required for police to search GPS device"

Today's COA opinion in Christopher Wertz v. State of Indiana (ILB summary here) is the subject of a story this afternoon in the NWI Times, reported by Dan Carden. Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS | Police cannot search or review the data recorded by a vehicle's navigation system without first obtaining a warrant, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.

In its 3-0 decision, the court determined GPS data is entitled to the same privacy protections under the Fourth Amendment that the U.S. Supreme Court recently guaranteed to cellular phone data, which also typically contains location information.

"In our view, the GPS unit in this case is akin to a computer or cell phone. The device stores large amounts of information that could not possibly be stored in an ordinary physical container," wrote Appeals Judge Margret Robb. "Moreover, the location data it does store has been identified by the Supreme Court as private information." * * *

Police in Madison County, northeast of Indianapolis, seized Christopher Wertz's portable GPS device following a one-vehicle crash into a utility pole on Sept. 9, 2011, that killed Wertz's passenger, Megan Solinski.

After bypassing Wertz's passcode with help from the GPS manufacturer, police used data captured by the device to determine Wertz's route and traveling speed prior to the accident. * * *

Madison Circuit Judge Dennis Carroll rejected Wertz's pretrial motion to suppress the GPS data.

The appeals court said in reversing Carroll's decision that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings require cell phones be treated differently than physical objects typically encountered in permissible police searches of individuals or vehicles because they often contain massive amounts of private data — including pictures, videos, address books, call logs and Internet search histories.

Similarly, a person using a GPS device for navigational assistance is not consenting to police accessing potentially years of travel records without probable cause, the court said.

"Although a person can expect to be seen by someone when he leaves his home and drives to a given destination, it does not follow that he should expect the government to know his whereabouts all the time," Robb wrote.

Oral arguments before the three-judge appellate panel were heard April 14 at Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, a charter school.

And, as it turns out, the NWI Times was at the oral argument, with a camera. The April 14th story by Carmen McCollum begins:
HAMMOND | The case was real. The defendant was real. The attorneys and judges were real.

The State of Indiana Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Wertz v. State at Hammond Academy of Science & Technology, giving high school students an opportunity to see attorneys and judges in action. The event was hosted by Hammond Legal Clinic, organized by Executive Director Kris Sakelaris, who is also president of the HAST charter school board.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 7, 2015 02:54 PM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions