No Expectation of Privacy in Ankle Monitor GPS Data

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United States v. Mathews, 2017 WL 1407036 (D. Colo. 2017)

Officers suspected Mathews of committing two pawn shop robberies. Mathews was on supervised release and wore an ankle monitor. Mathews’ parole officer participated in the task force investigating the robberies. He accessed Mathews’ ankle monitor GPS records and determined that Mathews was wearing his ankle monitor in the pawn shops at the time of robberies (no one said that Mathews is a criminal genius!).

Mathews complained that his parole officer exceeded his authority in searching the data while acting in his task force investigator role.

Mathews was charged with the robberies. He argued that the GPS evidence was the result of an illegal “search” of the ankle monitor data. The court agreed that parole officials were “perpetually ‘searching’ Mathews within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment for as long as he wore the ankle monitor.” However, the legal issue to be resolved was whether Mathews had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the ankle monitor GPS data.

Mathews complained that his parole officer exceeded his authority in searching the data while acting in his task force investigator role. He claimed that any other officer would have needed a search warrant to obtain the GPS data. The court ruled that the search was proper. First, Mathews had a release condition that allowed a parole officer “to search your person, vehicle, residence or any property under your control.” This search happened without intruding on Mathews’ person or property; in fact, it happened without his knowledge. Thus, reasoned the court, it did not matter whether it was Mathews’ parole officer or another officer who conducted the search. Second, the court noted that the GPS data was historical—not real-time surveillance.

Related: GPS Tracker Installation Specifics Fall Outside Court’s Jurisdiction

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 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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