GPS Stalking Addressed by Multiple Pieces of Legislation

Various legislation addresses GPS stalking

Photo: Beao/Wikimedia commons

While the world is changing, the fact that people are still suspicious of one another, even those they are supposed to be most intimately attached to, remains the same. The technological changes in the world means there are entirely new ways to keep tabs on someone suspected of wrongdoing. Gone are the days are hiring a private investigator or taking on the task personally, trying to covertly follow the suspected party. Also gone are the days when this might have been considered legal in many states. A recent form of tracking, GPS stalking, is a problem that is being addressed by several pieces of legislation on both a state and national level.

Current Laws for GPS Stalking

GPS stalking is tracking someone’s movements using a Global Positioning System (GPS). Such systems are found in many types of cars and smartphones, but they are also available as individual devices which can be covertly attached to a vehicle or stealth apps which can be put on smartphones and monitored.

It has been estimated that in 2006, before smartphones were as prevalent as they are today, more than 25,000 cases of domestic violence were linked specifically to GPS stalking. A recent law in New York known as Jackie’s Law puts more modern numbers to the phenomenon, stating that one out of every four stalking cases nationwide involve some form of tracking technology.

Jackie’s Law was named for Jackie Winiewski, a woman who was murdered two years ago in New York by her boyfriend. Previous to her death, Winiewski had discovered her boyfriend had placed a GPS device on her car, but New York law at the time didn’t allow for prosecution. Jackie’s Law was recently signed into effect in New York, but many are wondering if it is enough. The gist of the law is that it is now illegal to commit GPS stalking, under one condition: the person being tracked must make it clear that electronic tracking is unwelcome. The obvious gray area deals with the fact that GPS stalking would still be legal if the person didn’t know about it.

Currently GPS tracking is legal in many cases, such as for parents monitoring the activity of their children, law enforcement using them for investigations, companies tracking the use of a company vehicle, and even car rental companies, although in the latter situation, many states require the company to notify the renters of such a device. Vehicle owners are allowed to have tracking devices on their car, but some states designate that it is illegal to track a co-owner of the vehicle, such as a spouse.

In Utah, GPS stalking [stalking, in general] is considered an “offense against the person” according to Utah Code 76-5-106.5. The offense ranges from a class A misdemeanor to a second degree felony depending largely on whether or not the offender has been convicted of stalking before or if he/she used a dangerous weapon in the commission of the crime. While the law is unclear whether or not the victim has to first state that they don’t want to be tracked in order for GPS stalking to be punishable by the law, it does clearly state that it is illegal to use “a computer, the Internet, text messaging, or any other electronic means.”

GPS Stalking Legislation on the Table

There are two pieces of legislation currently in the spotlight. Following the lead of Jackie’s Law, Sen. Charles Shumer, D-New York, is promoting a bill that would make any form of electronic stalking illegal nationwide. Concern of the bill is the same concern mentioned in regards to Jackie’s Law. Specifically, enforcement becomes an issue if someone doesn’t know they are being GPS stalked. In addition, attorney Peter Pullano stated that if such a bill becomes law, it would have to be constantly amended to keep up with the changing face of technology.

Another piece of legislation that relates to one of Shumer’s motivations in proposing his legislation aims more specifically at apps that offenders are using to track their victims. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has introduced the Location and Privacy Act to address the fact that there is no federal law banning apps that seem directly related to GPS stalking. While some of these apps claim to be aimed at parents who want to keep track of their teens, other apps make no attempt to hide the fact that they are advertising to men or women who fear their partner is being unfaithful. One such firm even advertised, “total control of your partner’s phone without them even knowing it.”

In many cases, the offender gives the phone to their partner with the app already installed, but in some cases, they will secretly install the app on the victim’s phone. Either way, Franken considers it an invasion of privacy and tantamount to GPS stalking. Critics of the legislation point out that while some apps definitely seem to be aimed at stalking, other apps offer legitimate GPS services, including apps limiting the use of phones of teen drivers or to monitor people with early-stage dementia.

Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation was quoted as saying, “Congress could and should ban the marketing and sale in the United States of apps advertised and marketed as stalking apps, but that would not prevent would-be stalkers from using a legitimate tracking app for off-label purposes.”

Given the domestic violence statistics and the facts that GPS stalking may have even been responsible for offenders being able to find their murder victims, it is clear that the threat needs to be addressed beyond current law. However, it seems that the considerable “gray area” will need to be explored before proposed legislation is going to be as effective as it needs to be.

Criminal Mischief Charges Result from Church Vandalism, Burglary

church vandalism equals criminal mischief

Photo: Center for Social Leadership

A Duchesne County LDS church was vandalized on Tuesday, Oct. 14. Two days later, the parties responsible were arrested and booked on charges of criminal mischief, burglary, and misdemeanor theft.

Thou Shalt Not Tag

The criminal mischief incident in question took place Tuesday night sometime after 10:30 p.m. at the church located at 181 N. 200 W. The damages weren’t discovered until the next morning.

It is unclear how the three vandals got into the church. There was no sign of forced entry into the building. However, several doors inside the church were kicked in, according to a report from KSL News. In addition to the damaged doors, various items–including cash–were stolen from the church, and red spray paint was used to “tag” various locations, including the door to the bishop’s office, the inside of the chapel, and a picture of Jesus Christ.

On Thursday, Tristan Joseph Peterson Hirst was detained and confessed to the crime to a Duchesne County Sheriff’s department sergeant. He also implicated Denver T. Bell and 17-year-old juvenile male in the crime. Hirst and Bell told police where the stolen items were located, and police were able to obtain them.

Both men were charged with criminal mischief, burglary, and misdemeanor theft. It is unclear what charges will be filed against the juvenile offender.

Criminal Mischief Defined

According to Utah Code 76-6-106, criminal mischief–more commonly known as vandalism–is considered an “offense against property.” According to the code, a person commits criminal mischief if he/she does any of the following:

  • damages or destroys (other than via fire/arson) property with the intent to defraud an insurer
  • tampers with the property of another resulting in endangering human life, health or safety
  • causes or threatens a substantial interruption of any critical infrastructure (such as communication, financial, transportation, health care, etc…)
  • intentionally damages, defaces or destroys the property of another
  • recklessly or willfully shoots a missile or other object against a vehicle of transportation.

A church does not qualify as “critical infrastructure,” and obviously Hirst and Bell didn’t fire a missile at anything. Their charge results from the most common form of criminal mischief, “intentionally damages, defaces or destroys the property of another.”

Criminal mischief ranges from a class B misdemeanor up to a second degree felony depending on the offense. When it comes to vandalism, the punishment will depend on the value of property damaged, with a second degree felony for over $5,000 down to a class B misdemeanor for less than $500.

If you or someone you know has been charged with criminal mischief or any other crime, be sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will look out for your best interests.

Man Charged with Motor Vehicle Theft Tried to Elude K9 Unit

Motor vehicle theft charges

Photo: Michael Pereckas

In an attempt to escape pursuit after being caught red-handed for motor vehicle theft, a man fled from police cruisers and tried jumping in a river to elude a K9 unit. He was still ultimately apprehended and is being charged for suspicion of motor vehicle theft and fleeing police.

It Always Works in the Movies

On Thursday, Oct. 9, just before midnight, detectives from the Salt Lake Metro Gang Unit located a stolen vehicle on South State Street. Detectives waited and watched as John Hallberg, 47, showed up, got into the vehicle, and drove off.

Police gave chase but called off the pursuit when Hallberg’s reckless behavior–including almost colliding with one of the police cars–indicated he could be a threat to public safety. However, the abandoned vehicle was quickly was quickly located, and according to Salt Lake City police detective Dennis McGowan, two K9 units were deployed, cornering Hallberg along the Jordan River Parkway.

Whether it was the dogs closing in or a cinematic belief that going in water threw off his scent was unclear, but for whatever reason, Hallberg jumped into the Jordan River. Unfortunately for him, while this trick may have worked, he chose to hide on the other side of the river under some brush instead of continuing to flee. Even the dogs knew as much, using one of their trained signals to indicate that he was still nearby when officers showed up.

Hallberg was arrested and booked into Salt Lake County Jail on suspicion of motor vehicle theft.

Motor Vehicle Theft Repercussions

According to Utah Code 76-6-412, motor vehicle theft falls under “offenses against property.” In the case of motor vehicle theft, it is classified as a second degree felony based on the categorization of the property being valued either above $5,000 or if the property stolen is a firearm or operable motor vehicle. Obviously if Hallberg was able to flee police in the vehicle, it would be considered operable.

As a second degree felony, motor vehicle theft is punishable by a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000. The key term to notice here is “up to.” If you or someone you know has been charged with motor vehicle theft, make sure to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who will work to get you the lower end of that sentence and fine.