In 2011, Robert Dale Lee was stopped by Kentucky State Troopers who knew that the man had a significant amount of marijuana in his car. The traffic stop led to the discovery of 150 pounds of marijuana, and Lee was arrested. However, the DEA is now facing scrutiny and the marijuana is not admissible as evidence because they forgot one little detail– it is unlawful to put a GPS tracking device on someone’s car without a warrant from a Judge.
Investigators were initially tipped off to Lee’s actions by a cooperating witness who believed that Lee had been buying large amounts of marijuana in Chicago and driving it back to Kentucky.
A DEA Task Force Officer applied the tracking device to Lee’s car while he was meeting with a federal probation officer for previous jail time he had served. The GPS device was not approved by a judge. The next time DEA officers noticed Lee going to Chicago, they notified a Kentucky State Trooper and provided him with a description of Lee’s vehicle. The Trooper was advised that he would “have to obtain his own probable cause for a traffic stop.”
The probable cause was that Lee was driving without a seat belt. The Trooper searched the car with his drug sniffing dogs, which then found the marijuana. At that point, Lee confessed. However, this confession only came as a direct result of the traffic stop which likely would not have otherwise happened if the Trooper had not been tipped off by the DEA agents who were tracking Lee.
Now it has been determined that without the warrant, the 150 pounds of marijuana that were discovered are inadmissible as evidence against Lee. Federal Judge Amul R. Thapar wrote this week of the incident, “In this case, the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee. Admittedly, the agents did not intend to break the law. But, they installed a GPS device on Lee’s car without a warrant in the hope that something might turn up.”
Spokesman for the Lexington US Attorney’s Office, Kyle Edelen, stated that prosecutors are currently reviewing the ruling and determining whether they’d like to appeal Thapar’s decision.
In January, a case in which un-warranted GPS tracking was struck down cited the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, Lee’s case began before that ruling, so Thapar had to make the final decision.