Don’t Borrow a Car with a Hidden Police GPS Tracker

United States v. Dewilfond, 2022 WL 17367806 (8th Cir. 2022)

Joshua Dewilfond told his friend he wanted to borrow the friend’s car so he could purchase a large quantity of methamphetamine. Oops. A detective was building a drug distribution case against Dewilfond based on information from several sources. One of the sources was a confidential informant (CI) close to Dewilfond. Yeah, you guessed it: Dewilfond’s friend with the car was the detective’s CI.

With the CI’s permission, the detective placed a GPS tracker on the car and the CI loaned the car to Dewilfond. Officers monitored Dewilfond’s travel for two days, then planned an intervention. The officers surrounded the car with guns drawn due to Dewilfond’s “history of eluding and the possibility of firearms.” Dewilfond told his girlfriend (the driver) to “go, go, go,” but an officer stopped her from putting the car into gear.

Dewilfond moved to suppress all direct evidence and derivative evidence seized as a result of the “warrantless surveillance of his location through use of GPS monitoring.”

Officers smelled marijuana and arrested both Dewilfond and his girlfriend. The detective recited the Miranda warning to Dewilfond and he agreed to speak with the detective. Dewilfond told the detective they would find methamphetamine in the car. Officers found over 1,000 grams of methamphetamine, ammunition and other contraband. A subsequent warrant search of Dewilfond’s apartment and a second vehicle recovered additional contraband.

Dewilfond moved to suppress all direct evidence and derivative evidence seized as a result of the “warrantless surveillance of his location through use of GPS monitoring.” The derivative evidence included his post-Miranda statements, information found on his mobile phone, the evidence found in his apartment, and contraband found in the second car.

The trial court denied his motion, and the court of appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in denying Dewilfond’s motion to suppress.

Dewilfond claimed the Supreme Court decisions in United States v. Jones (565 U.S. 400 (2012)) and Carpenter v. United States (138 S. Ct. 2206 (2018)) should save him. In Jones, the Supreme Court held that installation of a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s vehicle is a Fourth Amendment search. But in this case, there was no trespassory search. Dewilfond conceded that the car owner (the CI) consented to the installation of the GPS tracker. In Carpenter, the Supreme Court limited warrantless access to historical cell phone location data stored by third parties, not real-time tracking of a vehicle operating on public roadways as was the case here. Accordingly, Dewilfond did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his location and movements in his “friend’s” car.

Ken Wallentine

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 four 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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