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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > November 2013 > Search of Vehicles and Traffic Stops (GPS and the Good-Faith Exception): State of Ohio v. Allen

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Search of Vehicles and Traffic Stops (GPS and the Good-Faith Exception): State of Ohio v. Allen

Question: If you ask your prosecutor if it is OK to put a GPS on a SUV without a warrant and he says “yes,” can you use a good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule even though the advice was incorrect?

Quick Answer: Probably not. The good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule is normally applied in cases in which the police acted in good faith based on a binding judicial document, such as a faulty warrant.

State of Ohio v. Allen, Eighth Appellate District, Cuyahoga County, Sept. 26, 2013
Facts: After a residential burglary spree across multiple jurisdictions, the Lyndhurst Police Department received a tip that an SUV may have been involved in the crimes. The vehicle was registered to Brian Allen’s wife. After surveillance of the address, police confirmed the SUV was in the parking lot of the couple’s apartment complex and placed a GPS tracker to the bottom of the car. Police had asked a prosecutor if a warrant was necessary and were told no. They tracked the SUV for two days. Based on its coordinates and visual surveillance, they determined the vehicle was near two homes that had been burglarized. Police stopped Allen as he arrived home, and they saw electronic equipment in plain view inside the SUV. They got a search warrant for the SUV and Allen’s home and found more stolen merchandise. Allen filed a motion to suppress because the police attached the GPS without a warrant. The state argued that even though the officers violated the Fourth Amendment by placing the GPS on the SUV without a warrant, the good-faith exception to the exclusionary rule should apply.
Importance: The purpose of the exclusionary rule is to deter future Fourth Amendment violations. The “good faith” exception is just what it sounds like: an exception to the general rule when you have a good faith reason to believe the search is lawful. But most cases in which the good-faith exception has been applied involve the issuance of a faulty warrant.
In this case, police had asked the prosecutor about the warrant. But the court found that officers cannot rely on a prosecutor’s reassurance, and so by placing the GPS on the SUV, they acted recklessly. The court also determined the police acted recklessly because they crossed into another county, under the cover of night, and snuck into a gated community to install the GPS.
Keep in Mind: When it comes to the Fourth Amendment, the important thing to remember is to not use the exception. Do it right from the start and get a warrant. For a GPS warrant, remember that you need to tell the court specific information about the vehicle, including the VIN number, ownership, and where the car is normally located.
More on Searches of Vehicles and Traffic Stops
Does it Matter Where on a Car a Dog Alerts? On a snowy, windy night, you make a traffic stop and call for a K-9 sniff. When the dog arrives, the driver is instructed to remain in the car, turn it off, and roll up her window. The dog is given the command to search for narcotics and makes two complete circles. The dog alerts twice on the driver’s side door. However, when you search the passenger compartment, you find nothing. You then open the trunk and find a purse containing marijuana and cocaine. The dog never alerted to the trunk. Were you allowed to search the trunk even though the dog did not alert to that location? The trial court in Reid said no. The court found the officer did not have a reasonable belief there were drugs in the trunk because the dog never alerted to that location. The appellate court disagreed. It found that the dog alerted twice on the vehicle, giving officers probable cause to search the entire vehicle, including any place drugs may reasonably be located. State of Ohio v. Reid, Ninth Appellate District, Lorain County, Sept. 30, 2013.
Hold Up. I Can’t See your License Plate: You are patrolling and come across a car in which the driver is not wearing a safety belt and the rear license plate is not illuminated. You issue a ticket. At trial, the driver presents photographs of the license plate showing it to be partially lit (although one light was out and the other light was covered with dirt). Does your ticket still stand? The court in Ferrell said yes. Even though photographic evidence showed one dirty light was on over the license plate, under a totality of the circumstances and based on the observations by the officer, there was reasonable suspicion to conduct the traffic stop. State of Ohio v. Ferrell, Fifth Appellate District, Delaware County, Oct. 21, 2013.
Are You More Credible than a Video Recording? While on patrol you watch a driver swerve and almost hit a parked car. You decide to follow the car for a while to see if the driver makes more traffic violations. You watch the car drift back and forth and, as it passes a parked car, go left of center. At this point, you decide not to make a stop because going left of center to pass a parked car deserves leniency. You continue to follow the car and watch it go left of center again, noting the front tires cross the center line. You initiate the stop and find a drunk driver behind the wheel. At trial, your dash camera video is reviewed, but it does not clearly show the tires of the car crossed center. Is your testimony or a video more credible to the court? The court in Anderson says the trooper’s testimony was more credible under a totality of the circumstances. Based on what the trooper testified and what he saw, he had probable cause to make the traffic stop. State of Ohio v. Anderson, Fifth Appellate District, Muskingum County, Sept. 30, 2013.