March 18, 2008 5:41 AM PDT

Police Blotter: Murderer nabbed via tracking, Web search

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(continued from previous page)

The trial judge found that the military investigators followed procedures when placing the tracking device on Davidson's car, not least because they consulted with the U.S. attorney and obtained approval from their regional commander. The request for the order says it "only requires a region commander's approval" and that "no search warrant or search authorization is required, as long as the installation and monitoring of the device is conducted in a public area."

In terms of the Fourth Amendment, Davidson conceded that the feds could track her on a public road. But once she turned off public roads, onto the ranch property, passed through a locked gate, and drove to the stock pond, she claimed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Both the trial court and the appeals court disagreed. The appeals court said there was insufficient evidence to show that she should have an expectation of privacy on the property. What's more, it said nobody should have any expectation of privacy in an "open field" and upheld her conviction.

Excerpts from Texas Appeals Court's opinion: In any event, the government's intrusion upon the open fields is not one of those "unreasonable searches" proscribed by the Fourth Amendment or Article I, Section 9. The Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 9 accord special protection to people in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, but that protection does not extend to "open fields."

The "open fields" doctrine allows a law enforcement officer to enter and search an area of land without a warrant. An "open field" need not be "open" or a "field" as those terms are commonly used; the term "open field" may be defined as any unoccupied or undeveloped area outside the curtilage of a dwelling. An individual may not legitimately demand privacy for activities conducted out of doors in fields, except in the area immediately surrounding the home, i.e., the curtilage.

The court distinguished the "open fields" of "the vast expanse of some western ranches" or woods from the "curtilage," the land immediately surrounding and associated with the home. The court concluded that "from the text of the Fourth Amendment, and from the historical and contemporary understanding of its purposes, that an individual has no legitimate expectation that open fields will remain free from warrantless intrusion by government officers."

Appellant failed to present any evidence during the suppression hearing to demonstrate that the monitoring of her vehicle implicated a reasonable expectation of privacy. The evidence at the hearing showed that the rural ranch property in question falls squarely within the definition of "open fields," in which appellant is not entitled to an expectation of privacy. That the property was fenced and gated does not create an expectation of privacy that society recognizes as legitimate and reasonable.

The record does not show that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that the police did not violate appellant's reasonable expectation of privacy by monitoring the tracking device on Sheen's property, and the evidence obtained through use of the device was properly admitted. Having overruled appellant's sole issue, we affirm the trial court's order denying appellant's motion to suppress and the judgments of conviction.

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Basic Crim Pro
This is basic law school criminal procedure. There is no legitimate expectation of privacy outside one's home, with few exceptions. Post 9/11, we're lucky there's still an expectation of privacy at all in the US.

Posted by 247mark (51 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hmm, I'm confused
To expect someone on MY property from the Government, or otherwise, isn't trespassing? People would need to build moats and the great wall of china around their land to facilitate this ridiculous request. If it's my land, visible from the road or not, DOES NOT mean you are entitled to be on it. What the hell?
Posted by soggy0 (51 comments )
Link Flag
No expectation of privacy in any public area, okay. No expectation of privacy in any area viewable from a public area, okay with limitations (no binoculars, etc). But, the police now have free access to any part of private lands they wish to enter? Is anything they see from such private property in an area that is not normally viewable from public areas now good evidence? They can now wander at will through private lands? Private lands are now "public areas" so far as the police are concerned?

I have some problems, here. Such encroachment always expands.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You didn't read the article apparently
The owner of the ranch gave them permission to search the property, its no longer trespassing nor is a warrant required.

The "open field" part of the decision referred to the legality of the tracking device, not a search.
Posted by ittesi259 (727 comments )
Link Flag
Throw it out
Throw out her sentence for the warrantless tracking device: Sentence her to life for her double stupidity in disposing of the bod in a place with such a close nexus to the husband's hobby and for doing that search on a computer with such a close nexus to her day-to-day life. Oops, forgot, we cant incarcerate people for stupidity -- well, then sterilize her.
Posted by spruceman (38 comments )
Reply Link Flag
gps vehicle tracking
Another crime solved with GPS <a href="">vehicle tracking</a>. Great article!!!
Posted by rmtracking (2 comments )
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