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Removing a GPS tracking device from your car isn’t theft, court rules

An Indiana man may beat a drug prosecution after the state’s highest court threw out a search warrant against him late last week. The search warrant was based on the idea that the man had “stolen” a GPS tracking device belonging to the government. But Indiana’s Supreme Court concluded that he’d done no such thing—and the cops should have known it.

Last November, we wrote about the case of Derek Heuring, an Indiana man the Warrick County Sheriff’s Office suspected of selling meth. Authorities got a warrant to put a GPS tracker on Heuring’s car, getting a stream of data on his location for six days. But then the data stopped.

Officers suspected Heuring had discovered and removed the tracking device. After waiting for a few more days, they got a warrant to search his home and a barn belonging to his father. They argued the disappearance of the tracking device was evidence that Heuring had stolen it.

During their search, police found the tracking device and some methamphetamine. They charged Heuring with drug-related crimes as well as theft of the GPS device.

But at trial, Heuring’s lawyers argued that the warrant to search the home and barn had been illegal. An application for a search warrant must provide probable cause to believe a crime was committed. But removing a small, unmarked object from your personal vehicle is no crime at all, Heuring’s lawyers argued. Heuring had no way of knowing what the device was or who it belonged to—and certainly no obligation to leave the device on his vehicle.

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