By James Neely/Guest Author
The outcome of a courtroom trial usually depends on which side has the majority of hard evidence to support the case they are trying to make. The prosecution may be able to make a logical case against the defendant, but without physical evidence, conviction is nearly impossible. As GPS tracking systems have become more prevalent over the last few years, more and more lawyers have begun to introduce data from the devices as evidence to prove a person’s location at a given point in time, which can either support or contradict witness testimony.
In one well-known case, William Jackson was convicted of murdering his daughter, Valiree, and was sentenced to 55 years in prison, primarily due to the evidence gleaned from a GPS tracking device in his truck. The data gleaned from the device showed that, although the man denied visiting the location where the body was found, he had in fact been very close by. The case was appealed, but the conviction was upheld since officers had obtained a search warrant before gathering data from the tracking device.
As GPS tracking evidence becomes more common in lawsuits, more and more cases will depend on the data availability. This also means that rules for admissibility will need to be defined more clearly. For instance, in order for GPS data to be considered evidence for or against a person’s involvement in a particular situation, council must demonstrate that the person in question was carrying that GPS tracking unit. In some states, a warrant must be obtained in order to track someone or to use data gathered from an already present tracking device. GPS tracking units can provide very specific data, but unless that data can legally be connected to a particular person in a material way, it may not bring about the desired result.
Cases that can benefit from GPS tracking evidence vary widely. A person accused of a crime can use GPS tracking evidence to show that he or she was elsewhere at the time; a drug ring might be apprehended by means of a GPS device placed in a suspected vehicle; family courts might use GPS devices to monitor placement exchanges and behavioral issues such as unsafe driving or drinking while driving in order to decide child custody cases.
Despite the privacy concerns that have surfaced regarding GPS admissibility in court, legal use of GPS tracking can help convict criminals that might otherwise go free. Although the lives of people like Valiree Jackson can never be reclaimed, GPS tracking can help protect others from encountering the same fate.