Passenger in Truck Denied Right to Challenge Constitutionality of Information Obtained from GPS Tracker


6/22/16  In State v. Jean, No. 1 CA-CR 14-0444 (6/21/16) the defendant was charged with possession of drugs.  Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) officers had information that a commercial truck was being used to transport drugs.  To further their investigation the DPS, and without obtaining a search warrant, placed a GPS tracking device on the truck.  Using information obtained from the GPS device the DPS stopped the truck.  The defendant was a passenger in the truck and said he was a driver trainee.  A search of the truck revealed the presence of drugs and the passenger/defendant was charged with the possession of those drugs.

 

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the use of the drugs at trial and cited two recent cases, United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct.945 (2012), and State v. Mitchell, 234 Ariz. 410 (App. 2014).  Those cases held the placement of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The defendant contended that information obtained from the GPS lead to the stop and the stop lead to the drugs, and so without the information from the GPS the DPS would never have known of, and been able to seize, the drugs.  The trial court denied the motion to suppress by saying the defendant did not have a possessory interest in the truck and therefore lacked standing (or the right) to challenge the legality of use of the GPS device.  The defendant was then convicted at trial and appealed to the court of appeals.

 

The court of appeals affirmed the trial court’s denial of the motion to suppress, again saying the defendant did not have a possessory interest in the truck and therefore no standing to challenge use of the information obtained from the truck.  The court said the reason the placement of a GPS device may violate the Fourth Amendment is that a vehicle is private property, and the Fourth Amendment forbids the government from trespassing onto private property without a warrant except in very limited circumstances.  To place a GPS on private property (in this case, the truck)  the government must in effect trespass on someone’s private property and therefore it is a violation of the Fourth Amendment if done without a warrant, or some other limited exceptions.  A “trespass” is going onto the property of another without lawful authority.  The person who is “trespassed” against is either the owner of the property or someone who, although not the owner, has a possessory interest in the property.  If the trespass is committed against the owner or person with a possessory interest in the property, their rights have been violated and they therefore have standing to challenge the results of that trespass.  In this case the defendant was not the owner of the truck and therefore the issue was, did he have a possessory interest in the truck.  The court said under property law a person has a possessory interest in property if they become a bailee of the property:

 

To constitute a bailment there must be a delivery by the bailor and acceptance by the bailee of the subject matter of the bailment. It must be placed in the bailee’s possession, actual or constructive. There must be such a full transfer, actual or constructive, of the property to the bailee as to exclude the possession of the owner and all other persons and [g]ive the bailee for the time being the sole custody and control thereof.

 

Applying this test the court of appeals said the defendant was not a bailee and therefore had no possessory interest in the truck and no standing to challenge the legality of use of the GPS.

 

Here, there is no evidence the owner of the truck made a “full transfer” of the truck to [the defendant], nor is there any evidence of a delivery and acceptance. There is no evidence the owner placed the truck in [the defendant]’s actual or constructive possession so “as to exclude the possession of the owner and all other persons and give [the defendant for the time being the sole custody and control thereof.” Id. There is no evidence [the defendant] ever had exclusive use of the truck nor evidence he ever had permission to drive the truck or actually drove the truck without the owner present. There is no evidence Jean ever possessed the keys to the truck. In sum, even if [the defendant]  may have occasionally operated the truck as a co-driver while in the owner’s presence, there is no evidence the owner did not reserve his right to possess and control the truck at all times.

 

The case may be found at:

 

http://www.azcourts.gov/Portals/0/OpinionFiles/Div1/2016/CR14-0444.pdf

 

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