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New Ruling: Police Can Use Tracking Devices in a Suspect's Vehicle

September 24, 2009

A new ruling states that police with a warrant can break into the vehicle of a criminal suspect and place a tracking device in the vehicle, according to the Boston Globe.

The Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts, the state's highest court, ruled on Sept. 17 that the state constitution allows police to secretly install tracking devices in a suspect's vehicle using a global positioning system. Using the devices as an investigative tool does not violate the ban on unreasonable search and seizure in the state's Declaration of Rights, the court ruled.

The court upheld the drug trafficking conviction of Everett H. Connolly, who was tracked by state police in 2004 after they installed a GPS device in his minivan.

In 2004, state police installed the GPS device in Connolly's van while it was parked at his apartment complex. Afterward, while sitting in his minivan, Connolly allegedly sold crack cocaine to an undercover officer.

The devices can be installed for up to 15 days before police must show why the devices need to remain in place, the court ruled. Generally, search warrants expire after seven days.

Justice Judith Cowin wrote that "The Commonwealth must establish, before a magistrate . . . that GPS monitoring of the vehicle will produce evidence'' that a crime has been committed or will be committed in the near future.

William Leahy, chief counsel for the Committee on Public Counsel Service, said the ruling also means that police must persuade a judge they have probable cause before the GPS devices can be installed. He said that will be a barrier to widespread use by law enforcement.

Although the court ruling was unanimous, three justices said the court should also consider the right of the individual to be free from constant government monitoring.


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