GPS Tracking & Electronic Tracking Devices:
Darren Chaker notes a few basic rules for GPS tracking or electronic tracking devices. Although counter forensic techniques are common, tracking devices in California are lawful, so long as the route used is otherwise open to view. (United States v. Knotts (1983) 460 U.S. 276 [75 L.Ed.2nd 55].)
However, leaving the tracking device on after it disappears into a house (at least when done without a search warrant) is an invasion of privacy, and unlawful. (United States v. Karo (1984) 468 U.S. 705 [82 L.Ed.2nd 530].)
But, when the transmitter is contained inside property which has been stolen, defendant’s possession of the stolen property in his vehicle (United States v. Jones (4th Cir. 1994) 31 F.3rd 1304, in a stolen mail bag.) or in a motel room (People v. Erwin (1997) 55 Cal.App.4th 15, in a stolen bank bag.) does not made the warrantless “search” unlawful.
In Karo, the transmitter was followed while it was moved about inside a private residence, then to two different storage facilities, and into a second residence; a circumstance not present in Jones or Erwin.
In following stolen stereo speakers containing tracking devices into a home, exigent circumstances of a fresh crime and the possibility that the speakers would be destroyed if officers waited for a warrant, justified an immediate entry to secure the house. (See People v. Hull (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1448, 1452, 1455-1457.)
Placing an electronic transmitter onto the undercarriage of defendant’s vehicle while the vehicle is in his driveway, but outside the curtilage of the home (United States v. McIver (9th Cir. 1999) 186 F.3rd 1119.), or any time the vehicle is found in a place open to the public (People v. Zichwic (2001) 94 Cal.App.4th 944), is lawful, and does not require a search warrant.
Wiring a tracking device into the vehicle’s electrical system, requiring the entry into the vehicle and/or taping into the vehicle’s wiring, would likely require a search warrant.
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