Florida Court Discusses Fourth Amendment Protections


When the police conduct a criminal investigation, they will typically obtain a warrant to uncover information that is private or otherwise not readily accessible. If the police gather certain evidence without a warrant, however, it may violate the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures, and the evidence may be deemed inadmissible. Not all information is protected against warrantless searches, though, as demonstrated in a recent Florida opinion issued in a homicide case, in which the court ruled that information from a third-party GPS system was not private. If you are charged with murder or a related offense, it is essential to retain an assertive Tampa criminal defense attorney who will fight to protect your rights.

The Alleged Crime and Investigation

Allegedly, the victim was found murdered in a park. He had been staying at a hotel prior to his death. The defendant resided at the hotel also, along with his girlfriend. The hotel had cameras, and when the police reviewed the surveillance footage, they observed the victim leaving the hotel with the defendant and the defendant returning alone a few hours later. The police learned that the defendant often used his girlfriend’s car, which was equipped with a GPS tracker.

Apparently, while the defendant generally had permission to use the car, the girlfriend did not know he took it on the night of the murder and reported it stolen. As such, she contacted her financing company, which had installed a GPS tracker, to track the car’s location. The police obtained GPS information from the company without a warrant. The information revealed that the defendant drove to the park where the victim was found on the night of the murder.

It is reported that the defendant was ultimately charged with first-degree murder. Prior to trial, he moved to suppress the GPS tracking information, arguing that as it was obtained without a warrant, it violated his protections against unreasonable search and seizure. The court denied the motion, and the defendant was convicted, after which he appealed.

Fourth Amendment Protections Against Unreasonable Searches

In evaluating a motion to suppress evidence on the grounds that it violates the Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure, a court will first assess whether a search was conducted and, if so, whether it was reasonable. In the subject case, the appellate court found that a search had not been conducted because the defendant’s right to privacy had not been violated.

The court went on to state that the defendant did not own the car in question, and the information provided by the GPS tracker was knowingly exposed to the public. Thus, the court found that the defendant did not have a reasonable subjective expectation of privacy with regard to the information. As the defendant could not show that the police violated his right to privacy, he could not prove a search occurred. Thus, the trial court ruling was affirmed.

Meet with a Seasoned Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney

Criminal defendants are protected against unlawful searches by the United States Constitution, and if their rights are violated, it may lead to unjust results. If you are charged with a homicide crime, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case. William Hanlon of Hanlon Law is a seasoned Tampa attorney who is adept at helping criminal defendants pursue the best outcome available under the circumstances. Mr. Hanlon can be contacted through the online form or by calling 813-228-7095 to schedule a conference.

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