Law Enforcement Use of GPS Tracking Devices

Law enforcement officers have different measures to obtain information about a potential suspect including the use of “slap-on” GPS tracking devices attached to vehicles. Without a warrant however, this practice may constitute a violation of the suspect’s Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable searches.

GPS tracking devices

Photo by: Surrey County Council News

Photo by: Surrey County Council News

The “slap-on” GPS tracking devices are mechanisms that can be placed inconspicuously on the undercarriage of a vehicle allowing police the ability to track the movement and location of said vehicle. These tracking tools allow law enforcement to keep tabs on potential suspects over an extended period of time and can be used to learn the whereabouts of illegal activity.

Protection from unreasonable searches

For several years, “slap-on” GPS tracking devices were under debate, with many claiming they violated a person’s Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable searches. The Fourth Amendment states “The right of the people to be secure ( . . . ) against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause ( . . . ). In October of 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that GPS tracking devices constituted a “search” and law enforcement must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before placing such devices on a vehicle.

Ankle monitors

Photo by: Washington State House Republican

Photo by: Washington State House Republican

While tracking devices on vehicles were deemed unconstitutional without a warrant, the question was raised whether or not SBM monitors, commonly referred to as ankle monitors should fall under the same scrutiny (Grady v. North Carolina). Each state has their own specific uses for electronic tracking in the form of ankle monitors. Some states use these devices to forever track the whereabouts of convicted sex offenders after they have finished their sentencing. Other states such as Utah permit law enforcement to use ankle monitors on individuals placed on probation. (Utah Code 77-18-1.16)

Grey area

As law enforcement’s use of electronic searches is being evaluated, it is wise to consult with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney to ensure that your rights are not being violated by the use of tracking devices or other means of technological trespass.

Right of a Probationer to Refuse Consent to Search by Police

Offenders on probation have to follow strict rules to ensure their freedom including permitting AP&P officers to visit them at home and work, conducting searches anytime without a warrant; however the Fourth Amendment protects the probationer the right to refuse consent to search when approached by the police.

Knock and talk


Photo by: Chris Yarzab

Police officers will often use a controversial investigative technique called a “knock and talk” to gather information and possibly gain admission to a residence without having reasonable suspicion of a crime. This is done simply by knocking on the door and asking to speak to the resident or even asking to come in. The neighboring Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which governs appeals in the western U.S. stated “T]here is no rule of private or public conduct which makes it illegal per se, or a condemned invasion of the person’s right of privacy, for anyone openly and peaceably, at high noon, to walk up the steps and knock on the front door of any man’s “castle” with the honest intent of asking questions of the occupant thereof — whether the questioner be a pollster, a salesman, or an officer of the law.”

Come on in!

Donald William Fretheim of Cedar City Utah was on probation following a conviction for drug possession and distribution when a pair of officers with the narcotics division used the knock and talk approach at his door. While investigating a drug case in the neighborhood, they found their way to Fretheim’s apartment. The officers asked Fretheim if they could come into his apartment to speak with him to which he agreed and willfully let them enter.

Consent to search

Once inside Fretheim’s apartment, the officers spotted a soft drink can on the ground that appeared to have been constructed into a cheap pipe used to smoke marijuana. When questioned about it, Fretheim admitted it was drug paraphernalia and gave the officers consent to search the rest of his apartment. The consensual search turned up with additional paraphernalia along with marijuana and methamphetamine. After being read his Miranda rights, Fretheim confessed to the police officers that the drugs and paraphernalia were his.

Probation searches apply to AP&P officers only

Consent to Search

Photo by: Hernán Piñera

Since Fretheim was on probation, he assumed he had to comply with the police officers’ request to speak with him, enter his home, and search his belongings. The reason he thought this was possibly due to the declaration in the Probation Standard Conditions issued by the Utah Department of Corrections stating that being a probationer, he must “Permit officers of Adult Probation and Parole to search [his] person, residence, vehicle or any other property under [his] control without a warrant at any time, day or night upon reasonable suspicion to ensure compliance with the conditions of the Probation Agreement.”

Mistakenly waived Fourth Amendment rights

Unfortunately, Fretheim was unaware that although he was on probation, his Fourth Amendment rights still allowed him to refuse consent to search as long as it was not by an AP&P officer. When he permitted officers to not only enter his apartment but to search his home as well, he waived his Fourth Amendment rights to search and seizure. Even though he was unaware of his right to refuse consent to search, he gave his permission so the consent was deemed valid in court.

Know your rights

When police knock at the door it can be intimidating and most residents wish to be compliant with law enforcement. It may seem illegal to deny them entry to a home and feel downright criminal to ignore the door completely. This is why it is important for individuals to understand their constitutional rights, especially during “knock and talk” approaches when the police have no legal reason to be at their home. Unless an officer has a warrant or demands to enter, the occupant has a choice. If an officer asks permission to enter or search the home, the resident has the option whether to even respond; just as they would to a nosy neighbor or a door-to-door salesman. For more information on your Fourth Amendment rights regarding searches and seizures so you can be prepared if law enforcement knocks at your door or for counsel regarding charges, contact a criminal defense attorney.

Utah Ex-Con Charged with Gruesome Murder in Washington

An ex-con who had served time in a Utah State Prison was charged with the gruesome murder of a Washington State woman last Monday.

Murder and dismemberment


Photo by: tdlucas5000

37 year old John Robert Charlton was charged with the murder of Ingrid Lyne of Renton, Washington after police discovered portions of the woman’s dismembered body in a recycle bin in Seattle. The 40 year old nurse and mother of three daughters had been on a date with Charlton to a Mariner’s baseball game over the weekend but hadn’t been heard of since. When police located the body parts including a head and then received information of the missing woman, they realized the cases were connected and arrested Charlton for murder. More of Lyne’s body parts were then located as well as a saw which was believed to be the tool used to dismember her body.

Was the murder preventable?

When a horrible act is committed, many people may wonder if there was any way the crime could have been prevented. Sometimes crimes catch everyone by surprise, even those closest to the accused. Regarding the murder of Ingrid Lyne however, there are various details in John Charlton’s past that may have been red flags. While these warnings were regrettably not known to Lyne, they might have been recognized by law enforcement and those who have had their own personal dealings with Charlton.

Criminal history

Photo by: Victor

Photo by: Victor

The murder of Ingrid Lyne wasn’t Charlton’s first run in with the law. Prior to Lyne’s murder, in Washington State Charlton had been charged with assault in 1997 and negligent driving in 1998. In 2006, Charlton was convicted and sentenced to 1 to 15 years in the Utah State Prison for felony attempted aggravated robbery. Of that sentence, Charlton served just shy of 2 years before he was released by the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole without the supervision of parole officer. Some claim this lack of supervision may have contributed to him being arrested again in 2009 for misdemeanor battery in Idaho and then felony theft in Montana the same year. In Montana he again served time in prison; this time no more than 5 years. There is no information available at this time regarding whether or not Charlton was under the supervision of a Montana parole officer; however some critics of the parole system are doubtful.

Mental uncertainty

Charlton not only had a history of crime, but he also showed signs of being mentally unstable and possibly dangerous as long as 10 years ago. Prior to his arrest in Utah in 2006, Charlton made unsettling threats to his parents at their home south of Seattle. He showed them a copy of the gruesome movie “Hannibal” and eerily cautioned his mom while referencing to it. He also told his parents that he was having a hard time dealing with life and he was questioning his mental stability. Charlton’s parents were so troubled by this encounter with their son that they went as far as to file a restraining order against him although they later dropped it.

Help for the troubled

Photo by: trizoultro

Photo by: trizoultro

While the thought is plausible, it will never be known for sure if the murder of Ingrid Lyne could have been prevented. While many friends or family members may be surprised when someone close to them commits a heinous act, this is one case when there was a growing concern long before multiple lives were changed forever. For those who are in and out of the court systems for various crimes or for those who have anger management issues, alcohol and drug abuse problems, or other mental health concerns, there is help available. Please seek counsel with a knowledgeable criminal defense attorney regarding criminal charges and they can also provide you with information regarding mental health services in your area.