Police Can Request A Warrant to Track A Vehicle While Investigation Auto Thefts in High Crime Areas
Appellate Docket No.: A-4388-18T4
Decided November 23, 2020
Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.
In an unpublished opinion, the Appellate Division of New Jersey reviewed whether a GPS tracking data retrieved from an auto theft investigation could be used to convict a murder suspect, not directly subject to the auto theft investigation.
In State v. Wade, a dark-colored Audi sedan pulled out from an intersection of William Street and Twelfth Avenue in Paterson and stopped next to the victim’s vehicle. Several shorts were fired into the victim’s vehicle, fatally wounding him.
The vehicle believed to be involved in the investigation was viewed from security footage obtained near the crime scene. The vehicle contained in the footage was also the subject of a large scale State Police auto theft investigation in Paterson. A communications data warrant (CDW) authorized the installation of a GPS monitoring system on the vehicle in an attempt to combat auto thefts.
The police also identified two suspects from the footage recovered from the crime scene. The State Police shared the information of the GPS monitoring with Paterson police, and Paterson police were able to follow the path of the vehicle earlier on the day of the incident, and recovered security footage from different areas of the vehicle’s location. The footage also showed the identification of the two suspects shown on the original footage of the crime scene.
Police arrested defendant with guns drawn. The police were able to recover defendant’s cell phone. Police recovered defendant’s GPS monitoring and call information on his cell phone and matched it with the information from the GPS tracking of the vehicle on the day of the incident.
Upon questioning defendant at the police station, the police mistakenly state that defendant was not under arrest. Defendant was read his miranda rights, did not request an attorney, and began to say that he was at the liquor store during the incident. Police revealed that they had obtained video footage that defendant was at the scene of the crime, and defendant ceased talking with police.
Defendant was indicted of second-degree unlawful possession of a weapon, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5(b)(1) (count one); first-degree purposeful or knowing murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3(a)(1), (2) (count two); first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 and 2C:11-3(a) (count three); fourth-degree certain persons not to have weapons, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-7(a) (count four); second-degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4(a)(1) (count five); and third-degree receiving stolen property, N.J.S.A. 2C:20-7(a) and 2C:20- 2(b)(2)(b) (count six).
During trial, the defendant made a motion to suppress the GPS information Paterson police used from the State Police auto theft investigation. Defendant argued that police could not utilize the information from other police, and the defendant was not the subject of the CDW. The Court denied defendant’s motion.
Defendant was convicted on all charges. Defendant appealed and the Appellate Division found that there was nothing to prevent police from sharing data for criminal investigations. What’s more, defendant, in addition to murder, was also charged and convicted from receiving stolen property as a result of the auto theft investigation. Thus, the GPS tracking information from the State Police investigation could be used to convict defendant and the motion to suppress was correctly denied.
This case is important to understand all of the technology police can use now to convict a defendant. Police can request a warrant to track a vehicle while investigation auto thefts in high crime areas. Police can also use a defendant’s cell phone and request the GPS tracking data to show a defendant’s whereabouts and call logs. All of this information, especially when corroborated, can make the State’s case very strong against a defendant. It is important to hire an attorney well versed in motions to suppress to make sure evidence that is inadmissible should be thrown out. Here, defendant did not challenge the validity of the GPS tracking itself – only that the police couldn’t share the information. This was a mistake, as the State must show the information is reliable before it is admissible.
At Hark & Hark, we represent clients in Superior Court for criminal matters like the present case involving motions to suppress. We vigorously defend our clients by fighting to uphold their constitutional rights, and ensure law enforcement follow proper procedures to legally make an arrest.
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