Community Inmate’s Ankle Monitor GPS Data Seized Lawfully

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By Tera Brostoff

A community inmate’s GPS monitor’s data is up for grabs even without a warrant due to the inmate’s limited expectation of privacy, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado held April 24 ( United States v. Mathews , 2017 BL 130504, D. Colo., Criminal Case No. 16-cr-129-WJM, 4/20/17 ).

The case hinged on whether the inmate had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the data generated by the GPS ankle monitor he was required to wear. The court ultimately determined a Fourth Amendment violation didn’t occur because the inmate had submitted to the monitoring and potential searches.

GPS Monitor Reveals Whereabouts

Vincent Mathews was charged with committing two pawn shop robberies in 2015 and 2016. During the time of both the robberies, Mathews was a “community inmate,” which is a incarceration status similar to parole, but with fewer freedoms. Mathews was wearing a GPS ankle monitor as a condition of that status, and GPS data evidence derived from the monitor made up the majority of the evidence against him as to the robberies.

The GPS data was accessed by a Colorado police officer who was investigating the robberies, but who was not Mathews’ parole officer. The GPS data allegedly showed that Mathews was present at the pawn shop robberies.

Mathews moved to suppress the GPS evidence, arguing the evidence wasn’t obtainable without a warrant because it was accessed by someone other than his parole officer.

But the court disagreed.

Privacy Expectations Addressed

The court said Mathews’ status as a community inmate meant he didn’t have the same expectations of privacy as a regular citizen, or even a parolee.

The court said that the state department of corrections had established rules regarding the community inmate status, including a condition stating that the inmates shall “allow your CPO to search your person, vehicle, residence or any property under your control.”

However, the court said the “your CPO” language was moot.

“Examining this totality of the circumstances, Mathews would have a stronger case if the search in question had been a traditional, in-person search,” the court said. “However, Anderson’s searches of Mathews took place entirely without Mathews’s knowledge … Thus, the presumed policy justifications behind the ‘your CPO’ limitation appear to have little or no applicability or force.”

The court also said that the Mathews’ Fourth Amendment argument lost traction because the officer accessed Mathews’s historical GPS data and didn’t engage in real-time tracking.

Mark C. Johnson in Boulder, Colo., represented Mathews.

Edwin Garreth Winstead III, of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Denver, represented the state.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tera Brostoff in Washington at tbrostoff@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: S. Ethan Bowers at sbowers@bna.com

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