Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Gibson: No Standing to challenge GPS-search of vehicle

In U.S. v. Gibson, No. 10-15629 (Feb. 14, 2013), the Court held that a defendant had standing to challenge the use of a GPS tracking device to locate a vehicle the defendant possessed – but only when the device was installed, not when the device was later used to seize incriminating evidence while the vehicle was being driven by another person

Gibson was not the registered owner of an Avalanche vehicle (it was owned by Burton), but he used it frequently. A GPS device was installed on the Avalanche without a warrant while it was parked in James Gibson’s driveway. Using the GPS, the police tracked the car making suspicious trips to Ocala, Florida, a “source city for narcotics.” The police stopped the vehicle for a traffic violation. Burton, not Gibson, was driving the Avalanche. Two kilos of cocaine were found inside.

The Court (2-1) held that Gibson lacked standing to challenge the search of Avalanche, because he was not the legal owner of this vehicle, he did not have exclusive custody or control over it, and he was neither a driver or passenger in it at the time it was searched.

Gibson had standing to challenge police testimony, based on the GPS, that Gibson was in a certain location while in possession of the Avalanche. But any error in admitting this evidence was harmless.

The Court rejected the argument that Double Jeopardy was not violated when the district court instructed the jury that it could convict a defendant for his renewed participation in a conspiracy for which he had already been convicted. The Court noted the defendant’s failure to object to this instruction, and the district court’s cautionary instruction to the jury that the defendant was not subject to multiple prosecutions for a single conspiracy. The district court instructed that the defendant liability was limited to acts performed after his first conviction, and this limitation ensured that he was not twice placed in jeopardy for the same conduct.