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REPRINT: GPS is new tool to help police crack cases, but critics worry about privacy

by | Dec 26, 2013 | Criminal Defense

Continued: GPS is new tool to help police crack cases, but critics worry about privacy

Used ‘when a case dictates’

It’s difficult to tally exactly how often such warrants and orders are granted in Minnesota because they aren’t labeled in a way that allows them to be easily pulled from other documents. According to the State Court Administrator’s Office, at least 12 were issued by state judges in 2012 and 18 so far this year. That doesn’t show the full picture.

Fossum and Gustafson estimate that their departments each use the technology about a dozen times a year.

“We’re not going to put a number on it,” St. Paul police Sgt. Paul Paulos said of his department’s use of GPS tracking. “This is all done when a case dictates when it needs to be used.”

Details about GPS tracking in Longs’ case were revealed in related warrants filed to search the homes and premises where Longs allegedly kept dogs.

Authorities say GPS won’t replace traditional surveillance and investigatory techniques, but a Mankato defense attorney  said GPS has limitations and moves cases into new territory.

Kohlmeyer Hagen Law Firm is representing Jeffrey E. Matthews of New Ulm, Minn., who is charged in Watonwan County based partly on GPS evidence.

“The reality is corners are cut, and because of the lack of case law out there [on GPS tracking], judges don’t know how to handle it,” The Lawyer said said of how long, how often and under what circumstances the technology should be used. “There needs to be a sort of balance with the Fourth Amendment.”

GPS was used to track Matthews, 54, a county welfare fraud investigator, from July 18 through Aug. 12 this year because of suspicions he wasn’t working. Watonwan County Sheriff Gary Menssen followed him for five days before a GPS tracker was installed on Matthews’ Buick at 11:56 p.m. on July 18, court documents show.

Tracking led to charges

GPS traced Matthews’ car moving between several locations, including his home, his office in St. James, Minn., a New Ulm cemetery where he allegedly slept or read during the workday, and a park in Sleepy Eye, Minn. He allegedly went home early on several days. He was charged with theft by swindle and misconduct of a public officer or employee.

The Firm filed a motion to dismiss the charges, arguing that GPS coordinates don’t prove that Matthews wasn’t working. (Investigators also followed Matthews a few times after the GPS tracker was installed.) Matthews travels regularly for his job, The lawyer said. The motion was denied.

“We’re getting into territory that, due to technology, we never had before,” . “[GPS] doesn’t necessarily prove that you were doing anything. It doesn’t monitor your voice. It has limitations, and it does raise privacy concerns, and I think, proof concerns.”

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib

Source: Star Tribune