Judge: Evidence in GPS-tracking case will be allowed [The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.]
(News & Advance (Lynchburg, VA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) March 31--Although the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police can't put GPS devices on suspects' cars without a search warrant, it wasn't enough to throw out the evidence against an accused cigarette thief Friday in Lynchburg Circuit Court.
Judge Patrick Yeatts found that police officers were acting in good faith, based on legal precedent that existed at the time, when they attached an electronic tracking device to Keith Hill's car while it was parked on a public street in Bedford on Sept. 16, 2010.
The Botetourt County officers didn't have a search warrant. But state court rulings had indicated they didn't need one, according to advice from that county's commonwealth's attorney.
It wasn't until January of this year that the Supreme Court decided warrantless use of GPS trackers violated the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search.
Because the officers asked for legal advice before planting the GPS tracker, the police actions "were objective and reasonable," Yeatts said.
Hill, who is defending himself against charges of large-volume cigarette thefts in several localities, will be scheduled for a day-long trial in Lynchburg, Yeatts decided.
Hill, 55, already has been found guilty of breaking into stores and stealing many cartons of cigarettes in other localities. The crime spree apparently ranged from Lynchburg to Salem.
Hill was recorded, and identified, on security-camera video in at least two of the thefts, Yeatts noted during his ruling.
The GPS device was attached under his car for 11 days, recording where it stopped and for how long.
On Sept. 27, 2010, the tracker showed his vehicle was stopped at 2:34 a.m. for about an hour at a Food Lion on Wards Road, near the Lynchburg Airport. About 180 cartons of cigarettes were reported stolen from the store that morning.
Hill and co-defendant Troy Edmund Blake were stopped by police in Bedford several hours later and arrested. Hill has been in jail ever since.
Criminal convictions related to thefts have been recorded in Salem and the counties of Botetourt and Franklin. In many of the cases, holes were knocked into the back walls of stores to gain entry, and tape was placed on motion detectors to block them.
(c)2012 The News & Advance (Lynchburg, Va.)
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