A Drug Suspect Took a Police Tracking Device Off His Vehicle. They Charged Him With Theft.

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A Drug Suspect Took a Police Tracking Device Off His Vehicle. They Charged Him With Theft.

Indiana Supreme Court deciding whether charge, and resulting search, were proper

(INDIANAPOLIS) -When police stopped getting a signal from a tracking device they'd placed on a Boonville drug suspect, they got a warrant and arrested him for stealing it. The Indiana Supreme Court is deciding whether that was okay  

Warrick County sheriff's deputies stuck a GPS tracker on drug suspect Derek Heuring's SUV. A search of his house after the device had been silent for a week and a half turned up not only the tracker but methamphetamine and pills.

Heuring's attorneys argue the drug evidence should be thrown out because there was no basis for the theft charge. Attorney Michael Keating argues while one might assume the tracker was planted by police,  there's nothing on the device to show who it belongs to, and the law says you can't be charged with theft if you don't know who the rightful owner is -- it's the equivalent of finding a wallet with no identification. And he suggests by placing the tracker on Heuring's vehicle, they in effect authorized his possession of it, even though it ended up in a bathroom and not on the bumper.

Deputy attorney general Jesse Drum says removing the tracker meets the legal definition of theft -- it knowingly deprived the owner of his property's intended use. And he notes a magistrate approved the search warrant. Even if the justices conclude the magistrate was wrong, he argues police still acted in good faith.

Two lower courts upheld the search, but several justices sounded skeptical during oral arguments.  Justice Mark Massa asked whether a suspect has any obligation to just let police track him. And Justice Steve David suggested police could just place a giant tracking device on the roof of your car and arrest you if you removed it. 

(Photo: Brian A. Jackson/Thinkstock)

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