Friday, October 24, 2014

Good Faith Exception to Fourth Amendment Exclusionary Rule Applies to Pre-Jones GPS Surveillance

In United States v. Katzin, No. 12-2548, 2014 WL4851779 (3d Cir., Oct. 1, 2014), Defendants challenged the warrantless tracking by FBI agents via a GPS device. The agents installed the device onto Defendants’ van in December, 2010, after Defendants had been identified as suspects in a string of pharmacy burglaries. The GPS surveillance was conducted over the course of two days. Subsequently, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered its decision in United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), in which the Court ruled that GPS installation and surveillance constituted a search that is subject to the warrant requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Citing Jones, the trial court in Katzin suppressed the evidence gathered via GPS. A panel of the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court’s ruling that a warrant was required in this instance. The panel also held that the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment=s exclusionary rule did not apply, thereby upholding the district court’s suppression order. The Third Circuit sitting en banc, reached the opposite conclusion. Citing United States v. Leon, 468 U.S. 897 (1984), and Davis v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (2011), the court ruled that, as the police conduct occurred before the Supreme Court had issued its ruling in Jones, the good faith exception to the Fourth Amendment=s exclusionary rule applied to save the GPS evidence from exclusion.
The Third Circuit cited Herring v. United States, 555 U.S. 135 (2009), to conclude that suppression is warranted only where police are sufficiently deliberate and culpable that deterrence will be effective and outweigh the costs of suppression.  

The Third Circuit determined that suppression is unwarranted in these circumstances if, in light of the totality of the circumstances, the officers possessed an objectively reasonable good faith belief that their conduct was lawful. Pursuant to Davis v. United States, 131 S.Ct. 2419 (2011), the Court held that the agents acted in accordance with Abinding appellate precedent,@ namely the Supreme Court’s decisions in United States v. Knotts, 460 U.S. 276 (1983), and United States v. Karo, 468 U.S. 705 (1984). Knotts and Karo both involved the warrantless installation of a beeper onto a canister containing contraband, and surveillance of the suspects’ vehicles on public roads. Despite the factual dissimilarities between beepers and GPS, and the tracking at issue, the Court held that the agents’ reliance upon these Supreme Court rulings was objectively reasonable.  

In the alternative holding, the Third Circuit ruled that the existence of “binding appellate precedent” is not necessary to a finding of good faith. Davis happened to involve such precedent, but the good-faith issue is broader, asking whether agents had an objectively reasonable belief that they were acting lawfully. The Circuit answered that question in the affirmative here, based on the totality of the circumstances.


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