Ankle Monitor GPS Evidence Not Admissible

by | March 31, 2020

Commonwealth v. Norman, 2020 WL 1270991 (Mass. 2020)

This is a case that falls into the category of “things that make you go hmm …” Or some other category.

Eric Norman was charged with possession of illegal drugs with intent to distribute and sundry motor vehicle offenses. As a condition of pre-trial release, he was required to wear an ankle monitor equipped with GPS and to stay out of the city of Boston. Soon after Norman’s release, two men committed a home invasion armed robbery in nearby Medford. Police accessed GPS data revealing Norman was present at the time and location of the armed robbery.

Based on the GPS data, officers obtained a search warrant for another location where Norman frequented. Officers showed a photo array to one of the robbery victims. The victim identified Norman. Officers arrested Norman.

Police accessed GPS data revealing Norman was present at the time and location of the armed robbery.

Norman asked the court to suppress the GPS evidence. The state argued Norman had consented to wearing the GPS monitor as a condition of release. The court held the evidence showed that Norman signed the consent form. However, the “coercive quality of the circumstance in which a defendant seeks to avoid incarceration by obtaining probation on certain conditions makes principles of voluntary waiver and consent generally inapplicable.” Thus, Norman’s signed consent wasn’t actually consent after all.

The court held the purposes of pretrial release conditions are limited to ensuring the defendant appears for trial and protecting witnesses from intimidation. Placement of a GPS device did not, in the court’s opinion, advance those purposes. Therefore, is was improper for the police to use GPS data to identify Norman as a participant in the armed robbery. All the other evidence, including the victim eyewitness identification, flowed from the GPS data evidence. Norman walks on this one.

This blog was featured in our Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over three decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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