Question: Can police insert a GPS device into an already opened package from UPS and track your movements with the package?
In 2010, UPS alerted the police that they had found marijuana in a package that they were repackaging because the box had been damaged during shipping. The package was addressed to a “Michael Davis” and contained plastic bags of marijuana. The officers took the package and its contents back to the police station; repackaged the marijuana with a GPS device and an electronic parcel wire; and affixed the original shipping label to the outside of the package. When affixed in a closed parcel, a parcel wire transmits different tones to alert law enforcement officers that the device is working, is moving, and when the parcel is opened. The parcel wire is tripped when light is let inside the package. The alarm sounds only on the receiver, not on the parcel wire itself. The defendant picked up the package, returned to his car, and drove away at a high rate of speed to his home. The trip took approximately 10 minutes, and he took the package with him inside when he arrived home. Within a few minutes of his arrival, the parcel wire indicated that the package had been opened. Officers watching the house knocked and announced themselves as police, but no one answered the door. Officers became concerned that he might attempt to dispose of the marijuana. Therefore, when no one answered the door, they forced the door open, entered the home, and secured it for people and weapons. Upon securing the home, officers found the defendant in the upstairs hallway and ordered him to the ground. They found an open pocketknife underneath him, and the package was on the bed in a nearby bedroom. The State charged the defendant with several felonies, but the defendant filed a motion to suppress this evidence which the court granted. The State of Indiana appealed the ruling.
On Appeal, the Court noted that the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides 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. Warrantless searches are presumptively unreasonable, although the Court has recognized a few limited exceptions to this rule. Thus, the police usually must obtain a warrant based on probable cause before executing a search or a seizure.
The first of several questions presented to the Court in this appeal was, “whether the insertion of the GPS device in the opened package obtained from UPS or the tracking of the package’s location via that device constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment?” The Court found that the simple act of resealing the container to enable the police to make a controlled delivery does not operate to revive or restore the lawfully invaded privacy rights. Here, UPS had opened the package before calling and turning it over to police. Any privacy interest in the package was lost when it was opened while in the shipper’s possession. The officers’ subsequent repackaging of the contraband did not revive any privacy interest. The GPS device was used in conjunction with visual surveillance as officers followed him from the hotel where he had picked up the package and then along public roadways to his home. On these facts, we find no Fourth Amendment violation in the officer’s use of the GPS device to track the location of the package. 985 N.E.2d 66