Appeals panel in Pa. says GPS evidence can be used

December 25, 2010 12:36:26 PM PST
An appeals court has overturned a ruling that barred prosecutors from using GPS tracking evidence against one of the men charged with several dozen burglaries in suburban Philadelphia.

In January 2008, police installed a GPS mobile tracking device in an SUV that they believed was being used as the getaway vehicle by a gang of smash-and-grab burglars. They said they were able to place the vehicle at or near the scene of burglaries in suburban Philadelphia.

After one of the three defendants moved to suppress the tracking evidence, Chester County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Gavin noted a lack of case law on the issue. But he said he did not believe police had sufficient evidence to use the technology to track the suspects.

"I accept that an organized society has the right to be aware of the movements of a person who has been tried and convicted of a crime," Gavin wrote in March. "However, even in that circumstance, the ability to track a person's whereabouts 24/7 exists only where the person is incarcerated."

Once released, former prisoners need only report to their probation officers, the judge said. Implicit in the constitutional rights to travel as people see fit "is the concept that one's destination is his/her own business, not the government's," he said.

On Dec. 13, however, a three-judge panel from the state Superior Court overturned the decision, ruling that the prosecution could use evidence from the tracking device at trial. The panel agreed with Deputy District Attorney Nicholas Casenta that Gavin had been focusing on individual parts of the case rather than looking at the broader picture.

Defense attorney Laurence Harmelin told the Daily Local News of West Chester that he was disappointed in the court's ruling, but any appeal would likely have to wait until after trial. The GPS evidence applies in only four of the more than 30 burglaries for which authorities allege the three defendants were responsible.

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Information from: Daily Local News, http://www.dailylocal.com


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