Is your vehicle private property? The answer seems obvious: of course it is. But depending on where you parked it, you might give up some rights in actually keeping it "private." Police can place a tracking device on your car without a warrant, according to recent judgment in California.
Earlier this year, an Oregonian named Juan Pineda-Moreno was convicted of growing marijuana after police tracked his car to a suspected growing site. Pineda-Moreno appealed, citing the fact that on two occasions DEA agents placed tracking devices on his car while it was in his driveway -- which he considered private, not public, property -- and therefore breached his Fourth Amendment rights.
In case you don't have your Bill of Rights handy, here's the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Pineda-Moreno didn't have any signage or barriers around his property to clearly indicate that it was private property, and since "an individual going up to the house to deliver the newspaper or to visit someone would have to go through the driveway to get to the house," why couldn't the DEA? Further, the court ruled that the underside of his car isn't private because "[t]he undercarriage is part of the car's exterior, and as such, is not afforded a reasonable expectation of privacy."
Of course there are all kinds of legal chicanery involved, so read the decision (it's short) if you really want to know how it went down (for instance, DEA agents attached GPS devices on seven occasion, five of those in public places, not Pineda-Moreno's driveway) and then decide for yourself whether Orwell has lifted a finger from the grave or not.
Pineda-Moreno tipped law enforcement off in 2007 when he was seen buying a large amount of fertilizer from Home Depot. The fertilizer, one typically used to grow marijuana, was purchased in conjunction with groceries, irrigation supplies and deer repellant and placed in the back of his 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The Drug Enforcement Agency decided to study Pineda-Moreno more closely, placing GPS tracking devices on his vehicle. The devices, about the size of a bar of soap, were placed on the underside of his vehicle on seven different occasions -- four times while parked on the street outside of his residence, once in a public parking lot and twice while parked in his driveway. Reports indicate that police placed the devices on his vehicle between 4:00 and 5:00 AM in the mornings.
While tracking his vehicle, officials recognized Pineda-Moreno's car was leaving a commonly known marijuana growing location. They located his Jeep, pulled him over and noted the smell of marijuana coming from his car. All three people in the car were placed under arrest and when officials searched Pineda-Moreno's trailer, they found two large garbage bags full of weed.
What's undisputed is that Pineda-Moreno was in possession of marijuana. But should the manner in which police tracked him get called into question? While Pineda-Moreno lost this recent appeal, expect him to take it to a higher court (the U.S. Supreme Court) in the coming year.
Jonathon Ramsey, 8-31-2010
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