Arizona court: Warrantless GPS tracking violated man's rights

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Emelio Jean is serving a 10-year sentence for convictions for money laundering and transporting marijuana stemming from the drugs found in the truck. (Source: Arizona Department of Corrections) Emelio Jean is serving a 10-year sentence for convictions for money laundering and transporting marijuana stemming from the drugs found in the truck. (Source: Arizona Department of Corrections)
Mug shot of 45-year-old Emilio Jean. (Source: AZDOC) Mug shot of 45-year-old Emilio Jean. (Source: AZDOC)
PHOENIX (AP) -

Police officers who put a GPS tracking device on a tractor-trailer without first getting a warrant violated the rights of a man who was later convicted of transporting more than 2,100 pounds of marijuana in the truck, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

However, the court still ruled against 45-year-old Emilio Jean when it refused to throw out evidence from the surveillance, concluding the law on such tracking was unsettled at the time and officers believed their actions were lawful.

The tractor-trailer was driven by Jean and another man after it left Phoenix for California and returned to Arizona in February 2010. Jean was in the truck's sleeping bunk when it was pulled over. The truck was owned by the other man.

"We conclude that passengers traveling with the owner in a private vehicle generally have a reasonable expectation of privacy that is invaded by the government's continually tracking the vehicle through a surreptitious GPS tracking device," the court wrote in its majority decision.

Jean is serving a 10-year sentence for convictions for money laundering and transporting marijuana stemming from the drugs found in the truck. The decision by the state Supreme Court upheld his convictions and sentence.

Arizona Department of Public Safety officers put the device on the truck after a license-plate check revealed the trailer had been reported stolen. Officers believed the truck was involved in transporting illegal drugs.

Officers followed the truck to Tucson where the truck's owner was seen taking part in a suspicious hand-to-hand exchange. The truck was then tracked through Phoenix and into California, according to the ruling.

Justice John Pelander said in a dissenting opinion that Jean's Fourth Amendment rights weren't violated, explaining that the device was used to monitor the movements of the truck's owner for a short time while the vehicle was on public roadways, where it could be seen by anyone.

"Thus, the majority's concerns about Orwellian invasions of privacy are unfounded here," Pelander wrote.

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