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State high court: Police OK to use GPS in burglary case


Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Police did not violate a Wisconsin man’s constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure when they impounded his car and secretly installed a GPS device on it, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.

James Brereton, 46, of Janesville, was stopped in the fall of 2007 in Walworth County by police who suspected him in a number of burglaries there and in neighboring Rock County. The police impounded the Pontiac vehicle Brereton and a companion were driving and secretly installed a GPS device.

Police obtained a warrant from a Walworth County Circuit Court judge to “place an electronic tracking device” on the Pontiac, but the warrant did not specify the device’s features in detail.

Brereton was arrested four days after the GPS was installed at a home that had been broken into, and police found evidence on site, according to court documents. Brereton contended the police’s warrant was invalid because the GPS provided “real-time” location tracking, which he said exceeded the warrant’s scope.

He made a motion to suppress evidence in the case, but an appeals court denied it, saying police acted reasonably in executing the warrant. In a 6-1 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the appeals court ruling.

In the majority decision, the court said the warrant covered installation of the GPS and the technology was used legitimately. It said the seizure of Brereton’s vehicle was supported by the probable cause that it contained evidence.

Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson questioned the motivation for the seizure in a dissent.

Brereton’s attorney, Matthew Pinix, said in an email that he and his client were disappointed by the high court’s decision and would consider an appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Dana Brueck, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, said the decision was the “right result.”

“GPS is an effective law enforcement tool that was used legally and appropriately to put an end to Mr. Brereton’s crime spree and bring him to justice,” Brueck said in an email statement.

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