Monday, August 18, 2008

Ethical Use Of Investigative Techniques And Tracking Devices

Here is a sex crimes case where an investigative technique which doesn't require a court order or search warrant was used ethically.

Someone was attacking women in Fairfax County and Alexandria, grabbing them from behind and sometimes punching and molesting them before running away. After logging 11 cases in six months, police finally identified a suspect.

David Lee Foltz Jr., who had served 17 years in prison for rape, lived near the crime scenes. To figure out if Foltz was the assailant, police pulled out their secret weapon: They put a Global Positioning System device on Foltz's van, which allowed them to track his movements.

Police said they soon caught Foltz dragging a woman into a wooded area in Falls Church.[...]

Privacy advocates said tracking suspects electronically constitutes illegal search and seizure, violating Fourth Amendment rights of protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, and is another step toward George Orwell's Big Brother society.

For me the key is how a tool or technique is used. I'm glad that the judge rejected the request by Foltz's attorney to throw the GPS evidence out of the trial. The police had reason to suspect him and they focused on behavior which fit with the MO of the criminal they were seeking.

If someone else should have been the prime suspect then the GPS data collected could have cleared him. In that case I doubt that the defense attorney would request that this data be thrown out in order to uphold the Fourth Amendment if a victim IDed him.

If the GPS device had been placed on Foltz's vehicle because an investigator was trying to find an excuse to arrest him I would have a different opinion about the ethics of the investigator who placed the GPS device or the ethics of those who set the policy.

In the serial rape case where former Illinois cop Jeffrey Pelo was sentenced to 440 years in prison showed that as a cop he used police resources that nobody would question as unethical if he were investigating crimes rather than committing them.

Jurors deliberated for parts of three days in June before finding the 17-year police veteran guilty on 35 counts, including 25 counts of aggravated sexual assault.

They convicted him without physical evidence linking him to the crimes. But prosecutors used dozens of witnesses and evidence found in Pelo's home to portray him as a man obsessed with violent pornography who paradoxically wanted his victims to like him. They also said his police computer login was used to research rape victims before the attacks.

Pelo has been jailed since his arrest outside a woman's home. Another Bloomington officer spotted him late on June 11, 2006, after the woman reported a prowler.

Pelo claimed he was shopping for a home for his mother-in-law. His wife, Rickilee Pelo, backed up that claim, saying her husband often kept strange hours after working night shifts for years.

Criminal cops like Pelo and civilians who are intent on harming others are the ones who make GPS tracking devices scary. Stalkers have been using GPS tracking devices for years.

Connie Adams found it impossible to escape her ex-boyfriend.

He would follow her as she drove to work or ran errands. He would inexplicably pull up next to her at stoplights and once tried to run her off the highway, authorities said. [...] Seidler had installed a satellite tracking device in Adams' car, according to police in Kenosha, Wis., 30 miles south of Milwaukee.

Because of abuses like these felony stalking laws need to make placing GPS tracking devices on someone else's vehicle a crime with only specific exceptions where the action can be shown to be appropriate. When law enforcement personnel use these devices or any other resource in abusive or unethical purposes, that should result in disciplinary action or termination.

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posted by Marcella Chester @ 8:37 AM   0 comments links to this post


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