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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > September 2013 > Search and Seizure (GPS Surveillance): State v. Wilcox

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Search and Seizure (GPS Surveillance): State v. Wilcox

Question: What information do you need to give the court to get a warrant for surveillance on a vehicle?
Quick Answer: You need to tell the court specific information about the vehicle, including the VIN number, ownership, and where the car is normally located. You also need to give the court a link between the crime and the vehicle, leading it to conclude, “Yes, this vehicle was probably involved in the criminal offense, so now you have probable cause.”

State of Ohio v. Wilcox, Fifth Appellate District, Coshocton County, Aug. 1, 2013
Facts: On April 15, 2012, Paul Wilcox was taken into custody after being found to be a passenger in a stolen tractor-trailer. The tractor-trailer was driven by Lucas Fine, Wilcox’s roommate. Wilcox was released with no charges, but was placed under surveillance. Police then asked the court for permission to place a GPS monitor on Wilcox’s car. Wilcox argued that the affidavit supplied by police to obtain the GPS did not establish probable cause because it failed to provide a nexus between his vehicle and the criminal investigation. The affidavit linked Wilcox to the vehicle through the VIN number, ownership, and identity of the commonly found location, in this case Wilcox’s home. It also laid out facts and circumstances allowing the court to find probable cause that Wilcox’s vehicle was linked to the criminal activity. The court determined that based upon the facts and inferences stated in the affidavit, Wilcox and his wife, via their own transportation, facilitated the theft of the tractor-trailer. As a result, there was enough probable cause to issue the GPS warrant.
Importance: Your affidavit must give the court a clear description of the vehicle, its location, and identity (VIN number). Second, the affidavit must give specific facts, observations, or circumstances to link the vehicle to criminal activity. Your goal is to establish probable cause that the vehicle is involved in the criminal activity.
Keep in Mind: Anytime you’re asking for a warrant, you need to show the court that you’ve got the right evidence. For example, in this case, the police department detailed a situation in which Wilcox was in the same county around the same time as the stolen tractor-trailer. Officers obtained independent information from another police department as well as information from their own surveillance team. All of this information allowed the court to make the link necessary to get to probable cause.
More on Search and Seizure
What’s that under your mattress? Plain view due to “innocent inadvertence”: During a protective sweep of a home where a potential abduction victim is being held, you go to search under a bed by lifting up the mattress, only the mattress slips from your grasp and the box spring falls, revealing a gun. Is this evidence in plain view? Yes. The weapons in this case were in plain view due to the “innocent inadvertence” of the officer losing his grip on the mattress when he was looking for the victim. When he lifted the mattress, he found four weapons. State of Ohio v. Hunter, Second Appellate District, Montgomery County, Aug. 9, 2013.