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Removing GPS Tracker Leads to Theft Charges

Posted by Sean A. Black | Nov 21, 2019 | 0 Comments

When it comes to government overreach, this one takes the cake. In July 2018, the sheriff's office for Warrick County, Indiana obtained a search warrant to allow them to place a GPS tracker to David Heuring's care. Under a 2012 United States Supreme Court decision, it would have been illegal for the officers to place a tracker on the vehicle without obtaining a search warrant. They got the search warrant by telling the issuing a judge that a confidential information had given them information that Heuring was using the vehicle to transport and sell drugs.

They obviously did not disclose the placement of the tracker to Mr. Heurig. Apparently, they also did not mark the tracker in any way as being property of the Sheriff's Office or connected to law enforcement.

Apparently, the tracker was active and providing information on Mr. Heuring's car's movements for about a week and then went silent. The officers waited 10 days to see if it would start back up. When it did not, they then applied for and were granted a search warrant on the theory that Mr. Heuring had stolen their property, the GPS tracker. During the search, they found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia but no GPS tracker.

There was apparently no evidence that Mr. Heuring had found the tracker and disposed of it. That was just the theory. As the defense pointed out, the tracker could simply had fallen off the vehicle. The prosecution even argued that Heuring's theft included the information that the officers “should” have gotten from the tracker.

Consider though. You are looking at or working on your own car and find a device on it that should not be there. There are no identifying marks on it. You do not know who put it there or why? It's your car. Most people are going to do what Mr. Heuring is argued to have done, take that thing loose, disable it, and get rid of it.

The State was good enough to admit that it would not be theft to remove a tracking device put on your vehicle by a private party, but they argued that a tracker put there by a government actor is different, even where there was nothing on or about the device to alert anyone that it had been placed there by a government actor.

Unfortunately for Mr. Heuring, the Indiana Court of Appeals apparently bought the State's arguments and upheld the searches. Mr. Heuring's lawyers did not give up though. The case has been moved up to the Indiana Supreme Court. Oral arguments took place on November 7, 2019.

Some of the Supreme Court justices apparently seemed pretty skeptical of the State's position.

Justice David of that court stated, “If somebody wants to find me to do harm to me and it's not the police and they put a tracking device on my car and I find a tracking device and I dispose of it after stomping on it 25 times, I would hope they would not be able to go to a local prosecutor and somehow I'm getting charges filed against me for destroying someone else's property.”

Hopefully, the Indiana Supreme Court will reverse the decisions of the trial court and Court of Appeals and turn back this overreach.  Stay tuned.

About the Author

Sean A. Black

Sean A. Black is a 1992 graduate of the Emory University School of Law. He has been in private practice in Toccoa, Georgia since June 1, 1992.

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