Legal Blog

Court Holds that Passenger Cannot Challenge GPS Tracking Device

June 23, 2015

In Green v. State, the Georgia Court of Appeals held that a defendant did not have standing to challenge a court order that authorized the police to place a GPS tracking device on a vehicle that belonged to a co-defendant.

The police were investigating a series of burglaries and, as a result, they obtained a court order that authorized them to place a GPS tracking device on a pickup truck belonging to Green’s co-defendant, Mr. Tompkins. The use of the tracking device eventually led to a traffic stop of the vehicle, the arrest of the defendants, and the seizure of evidence.

Thompkins filed a motion to suppress the evidence acquired as a result of the tracking device, and Green adopted the motion. They argued that the order authorizing the use of the GPS device was not supported by probable cause and that the Clayton County Superior Court did not have jurisdiction to authorize GPS monitoring of a vehicle outside of Clayton County. The trial court denied both defendants’ motions.

After a bench trial, both were convicted. Green filed a motion for new trial, contending that the court should have granted the motion to suppress. The trial court denied the motion, holding that Green lacked standing to challenge the court order since it was for a vehicle that did not belong to him.

In order to have standing to challenge the constitutionality of a search, a defendant must show that law enforcement either trespassed onto his property or invaded his reasonable expectation of privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that using a GPS tracking device to monitor a vehicle’s movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment. Instead of basing this holding on the defendant’s reasonable expectation of privacy, the Court used a “common-law trespassory test.” Thus, placing the GPS device on a person’s vehicle is a Fourth Amendment search because, by installing the device, law enforcement “physically occup[ied] private property for the purpose of gaining information.”

The Court of Appeals noted that it was undisputed that Green had no property interest in the truck and therefore he was not aggrieved by the act of placing the device on the vehicle. Moreover, the Court held that the use of the device did not violate any reasonable expectation of privacy. The Court cited the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision in Devega v. State for the proposition that a defendant does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his GPS location data. In Devega, the Court held that it did not violate the Fourth Amendment when police asked a cell phone provider to send a signal to the defendant’s phone that would identify its location. The Court reasoned that when the defendant traveled on public roads, “he voluntarily conveyed to anyone who wanted to look the fact that he was traveling over particular roads in a particular direction, the fact of whatever stops he made, and the fact of his final destination.”

The defendant argued that under Georgia law, a passenger has standing to challenge the constitutionality of a traffic stop of a vehicle he is riding in. Thus, he reasoned that he can reach back and challenge the legality of the court order for the tracking device to the extent that it’s use enabled the police to conduct the traffic stop of Thompkins’ vehicle. The Court rejected this argument and responded that the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine applies only when the defendant has standing regarding the Fourth Amendment violation which constitutes the poisonous tree. Therefore, since the defendant did not own or regularly drive the car to which the GPS device was attached, the Court held that he lacked standing to challenge the use of the device or any evidence obtained as a result.

More Posts in Search and Seizure Cases

More Posts