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A person does not have a legitimate privacy interest regarding the movement of a vehicle along public roadways, according to a New York judge. Therefore, law enforcement officials are not required to obtain a search warrant before installing a Global Positioning System device on a vehicle to track its whereabouts, Westchester County Court Judge Rory J. Bellantoni has ruled. “New York decisional law, and the statutory regulation of vehicles referenced herein, leads to the inescapable conclusion that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in movements of a motor vehicle traveling upon public roadways such that law enforcement is required to obtain a warrant under New York State law prior to installing a GPS device when investigating crime,” Judge Bellantoni held in People v. Gant, 05-0196. In Gant, Bellantoni denied a motion to suppress any evidence derived from a GPS receiver placed by Drug Enforcement Administration officers on the luxury tour bus of Gloria Velez, a model and singer known as “Hurricane.” The GPS device, for which officials had not obtained a warrant, was part of a sting that netted $10 million in cocaine and $800,000 in cash, as well as the tour bus, which was used to transport the drugs. Four men were arrested, including Velez’s manager, defendant Charles Gant. Gant filed a motion to suppress, claiming that placing the GPS device on the bus without a warrant violated, among other things, the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. To assert that law enforcement officials violated the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must establish standing, Judge Bellantoni wrote. Here, Gant argued that he had a legitimate expectation of privacy in the bus because he was its “true owner,” notwithstanding that the bus was registered in co-defendant James Allen Lloyd’s name. Bellantoni dismissed this assertion, ruling that Gant failed to demonstrate ownership. The judge added that Gant also failed to establish that he was a passenger “with some reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle itself,” citing People v. Nunez, 234 AD2d 569. And the judge dismissed the argument that Gant had any reasonable expectation of “privacy in his movements from one place to another.” Bellantoni cited a U.S. Supreme Court case that held that a person traveling by car on public thoroughfares has no reasonable expectation of privacy regarding “his movements from one place to another.” In U.S. v. Knotts, 460 US 276, the Court allowed the admission of evidence derived from the warrantless placement of a tracking device in a container of chloroform, which officials suspected was purchased for drug manufacturing. Only one prior New York state court decision ruled on the potential necessity of warrants in the use of GPS devices. In People v. Lacey, Nassau County Court Judge Joseph C. Calabrese held that while law enforcement officials must obtain warrants for GPS devices, the defendant lacked standing to assert a claim because the vehicle was not his. His claim was “at best” based on third-party rights, Judge Calabrese ruled. The current case compelled the same result, according to Judge Bellantoni, although he stopped short of adopting the finding in Lacey that a vehicle’s owner may contest the warrantless placement of a GPS device on a vehicle. As in Lacey, “the defendant herein has failed to establish a reasonable expectation of privacy in the vehicle, or in the vehicle’s whereabouts; particularly if the Defendant did not travel in the vehicle,” Bellantoni wrote. “Accordingly, for the reasons set forth herein, Defendant’s motion to suppress evidence resulting from law enforcement’s installation of a GPS device is denied.” Following the denial of Gant’s motion, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy and two counts of possession of a controlled substance. Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 17. He faces a minimum prison sentence of 12 years. Gant’s attorney, Edward D. Wilford, did not return a call seeking comment. Assistant District Attorneys Thomas Luzio, Matthew Brotmann and Edward Saslaw represented the Westchester district attorney’s office. District Attorney Jeanine Pirro said she was pleased with the decision. “This is a very important case and I think a very important issue,” she said. “In this day and age, GPS is going to play a bigger and bigger role in law enforcement and surveillance.”

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