Saint Paul, MN - 10/18/2016 (PRESS RELEASE JET)
The Minnesota Court of Appeals today ruled that the attachment of a GPS device to the truck of a suspected poacher and tracking his travel over a two-week period was a search for which DNR needed a search warrant under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. DNR did not have a search warrant. The evidence obtained as a result of the illegal search was suppressed and the case was dismissed.
“We are pleased that the appeals court adopted our argument that DNR needed a search warrant to fasten a GPS device to a sportsman’s truck and then electronically follow his travels,” said defense attorney Bill Peterson of Bloomington. “In our era of increased government surveillance of citizens, it is reassuring that the courts have drawn limits on these government practices.”
The case arose in September 2014 when DNR Conservation Officer Edward Picht thought that Joshua Liebl of Dawson, Minnesota may have been considering taking deer illegally. Picht obtained a “Tracking Order” from a judge to attach a GPS device to Liebl’s pickup truck and monitor his travels.
The Tracking Order concluded that the GPS attachment and monitoring would be “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” The Tracking Order did not find that there was “probable cause” to conclude that Mr. Liebl had violated a law or was about to violate a law.
On October 8, 2014, at 3:20 in the morning, a conservation officer crawled under Liebl’s truck that was parked in his driveway and fastened a GPS device. DNR staff then followed the movements of Liebl’s truck on a remote computer for two weeks. On October 21st, the GPS surveillance showed what CO Picht considered a suspicious visit to a rural meadow in Lac qui Parle County. Based on that, CO Picht went to that location and later that day obtained search warrants to search Liebl’s home and his truck as well as his parents’ home. Two deer that DNR claimed were illegally taken were seized and Liebl was charged with 13 criminal counts over the two deer.
In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled unanimously that attachment of a GPS device to a vehicle and tracking its movements was a search under the Constitution.
In April of this year, District Court Judge Thomas Van Hon granted the defense motion to suppress the evidence acquired based on the Tracking Order and directed the case against Mr. Liebl to be dismissed. The State then appealed that decision to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
The appellate court today affirmed Judge Van Hon’s decision.
“We are gratified that the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision,” said Attorney Peterson. “We are looking forward to DNR returning Mr. Liebl’s guns and hunting trophies in the very near future.”
Note: Link to Court Decision: http://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/Appellate/Court%20of%20Appeals/Standard%20opinions/OPa160618-101716.pdf
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