A recent trend in criminal prosecutions throughout the country illustrates that police and prosecutors are using GPS device information against criminal suspects and defendants to obtain arrest warrants and convictions. For example, earlier this year, prosecutors in Chicago used a criminal defendant’s GPS device to show that he was in the area when four of his family members were killed, according to an article on an Idaho online news website. The defendant was convicted of murder in that case. GPS devices are used in cars, trucks and cell phones to help people find a particular location. The GPS devices also maintain records as to where the device has been at a particular time. In certain cases, police and prosecutors have obtained the information from a suspect’s or criminal defendant’s GPS device to attempt to prove that the person was at a certain place at a certain time. This information can be helpful to police and prosecutors to try to show that a person was at or near the scene of a crime at a certain time or to attack a person’s alibi defense.
Of course, a criminal defense lawyer can also use a suspect’s or criminal defendant’s GPS information to show that his/her client was nowhere near the crime when it occurred or to otherwise support an alibi defense.
GPS devices are becoming increasingly popular as prices decrease. One study indicated that 20% of people in the U.S. own a portable GPS device. Semi trucks and other commercial vehicles routinely have some sort of GPS device. People need to understand that the information that is inputted into, and recorded on, a GPS device could later be used against them in court. While there are Fourth Amendment search and seizure issues that a criminal defense attorney can argue to suppress the GPS device evidence, the case law on the subject is scarce and the prevailing trend appears to be in favor of allowing the evidence into criminal (and civil) trials.