Do Police Cars Have GPS Tracking in Arizona?

It was not long ago when the United States Supreme Court considered the use of GPS (short for global positioning system) tracking on an automobile as a form of search as detailed by the Fourth Amendment. In other words, the Supreme Court previously required that police obtain a warrant to perform tracking with GPS, even is that vehicle was driven or owned by a suspect who might have committed a crime.

The Arizona Supreme Court’s Landmark Opinion

The Arizona Supreme Court issued a significant opinion a few years back, stating the use of a GPS device is permissible evidence in criminal court. The court affirmed the conviction of the defendant in question, determining the police officer who used GPS for the search did so in accordance with already-existing case law. In short, this means the police’s use of GPS to track individuals suspected of a crime is perfectly legal in the state of Arizona in certain situations. Furthermore, the court pointed to the good faith exception to show the police officer acted in full accordance with the letter of the law and did not suppress evidence.

The wrinkle to the ruling detailed above is the court’s decision that police must obtain a warrant prior to using GPS for tracking purposes. The court’s logic in requiring a warrant is there might be passengers within the vehicle in question who are tracked through GPS technology when they should have the expectation of personal privacy when in such a vehicle.

The Impact of the Ruling for Arizona Residents

The Arizona Supreme Court ruling detailed above is important as it will shape similar cases across posterity. Unless there is an applicable exception to the warrant, law enforcement will be required to secure a valid search warrant to use GPS for vehicle tracking purposes. Otherwise, the use of GPS to monitor the activities of a driver or a vehicle passenger suspected of a crime is illegal. The valid search warrant must be based on probable cause.

The exception to the ruling is if police have the vehicle owner’s consent or if another person in lawful possession or control of the vehicle consents to GPS tracking. Finally, there is the potential for police to obtain an exception to the warrant described above yet such a situation is quite rare. Exceptions to warrants require highly specific circumstances that the court deems as justification for a search to be conducted without a warrant.

As an example, if exigent circumstances are present such as a police officer’s believe that evidence might be removed, eliminated or destroyed prior to the point at which a valid warrant can be obtained, GPS might be permissible. Furthermore, there is an exception for a situation that poses a direct threat to the public’s safety.

The Exclusionary Rule in the Context of Criminal Cases

The courts adopted the remedy of the exclusionary rule that permits for evidence to be suppressed when police obtain it in an unlawful manner that violates an individual’s rights. This rule is meant to dissuade police officers from violating Arizonans’ rights in the quest to obtain evidence. The exclusionary rule is applicable when the police officer’s behavior is considered negligent. Negligence is a term used by attorneys and judges, referring to the failure to provide due care to those in one’s vicinity.

An Arrest After Police Illegally Obtain Evidence

If police violate the rights of a suspect in the quest to obtain evidence and ultimately end up arresting that individual, the criminal defense attorney will attempt to suppress that evidence. It is quite possible evidence obtained through the illegal use of GPS might end up being excluded by the court, ultimately leading to a dismissal of the charges.
The quickest and most effective way to have evidence that has been unlawfully obtained through GPS or another means dismissed is to find an experienced criminal defense attorney. This legal practitioner will file a motion with the court so the evidence in question cannot be used to prove alleged guilt. As long as the judge agrees, the evidence will not be used to prosecute the defendant.