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Media Alerts - USA v. Harry Katzin et al. - Third Circuit
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October 2, 2014
  USA v. Harry Katzin et al. - Third Circuit
Headline: Third Circuit holds the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies where the FBI used GPS trackers without a warrant before the Supreme Court held that such conduct was a "search" under Fourth Amendment law.

Area of Law: Criminal Procedure - Exclusionary Rule

Issues Presented: Whether the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applies where FBI agents used GPS tracker to obtain evidence without a warrant and the Supreme Court held that such conduct was a Fourth Amendment "search" over a year later?

Brief Summary: The Third Circuit, en banc, reversed a ruling excluding the use of GPS evidence that led to the arrest and indictment of several people charged with pharmacy burglaries in the greater Philadelphia area. When the FBI agents placed the GPS on the suspect's vehicle, there was no explicit precedent that authorized use of a GPS without a warrant but they did not obtain one. The GPS provided the only evidence of the van's proximity to the pharmacy and, without it, the government's case would fail.

Approximately a year after the warrantless use of the GPS, the Supreme Court decided, in United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012), that the use of a GPS to track a suspect's vehicle constitutes a "search" under the Fourth Amendment. The question for the Third Circuit was whether the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule applied to the agents' conduct. The Third Circuit held that the good faith exception did apply because the agents reasonably believed that they did not need a warrant and a well-trained officer would not have known otherwise.

The court reversed the district court, holding that the evidence gathered against the defendants from the GPS should not be suppressed.

Extended Summary: In 2010, the FBI was investigating the burglarizing of several Rite Aid pharmacies in the Philadelphia area. In connection with the investigation, the FBI magnetically attached a battery-operated GPS to the undercarriage of a suspect's vehicle and tracked the vehicle's movement for two days. The vehicle was on public roads for the entire time of surveillance. Information gathered from the GPS led to an arrest and indictment of the suspect and several other people. When the FBI agents placed the GPS on the suspect's vehicle, they were informed by the Assistant United States Attorney that they were not legally required to obtain a warrant. The GPS provided the only evidence of the van's proximity to the Rite Aid and without it the government's case against would fail.
Approximately a year after the warrantless use of GPS, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Jones, 132 S. Ct. 945 (2012). In Jones, the Court held that the use of a GPS to track a suspect's vehicle constitutes a "search" under the Fourth Amendment.

The Third Circuit found that the exclusionary rule should be a last resort when it must be used to deter governmental violations of the Fourth Amendment. Additionally, the court found that it must consider the "substantial social costs" of excluding reliable evidence. With this in mind, it found that the question was whether a reasonably well trained officer would have known that the search was illegal in light of all the circumstances. The court concluded that, at the time of the GPS use, there was binding appellate precedent that was sufficiently analogous to the GPS issue upon which the FBI agents could reasonably have relied. Moreover, the Third Circuit held that the general good faith test applied to the agents because they acted with a good faith belief that the lawfulness of their conduct was objectively reasonable.

The Third Circuit found that all of these circumstances met the good faith exception to the exclusionary rule because "[t]he constellation of circumstances that appeared to authorize their conduct included well settled principles of Fourth Amendment law as articulated by the Supreme Court, a near-unanimity of circuit courts applying these principles to the same conduct, and the advice of an AUSA pursuant to a DOJ-wide policy." The Third Circuit found that there would be no deterrence if the evidence was suppressed because of the overwhelming support for the FBI agents' belief that their conduct did not require a warrant.

Judge Greenaway, Jr. dissented and was joined by four other judges. The dissent would have held that the defendants' constitutional rights were violated and no good faith exception should override the exclusionary rule. Finding no neutral authorization for the FBI agents' actions, the dissent asserts that this ruling allows the exclusionary rule to be eroded too far. The dissent emphasized that no then-binding precedent explicitly authorized the warrantless use of the GPS.

Judge Smith also dissented and was joined by four judges. Judge Smith joined Judge Greenaway's dissent and added that the majority's view would allow law enforcement to rely not only on holdings but also on rationales of precedent, leaving the good faith exception with no limiting principle.

To read the full opinion, please visit http://www2.ca3.uscourts.gov/opinarch/122548p1.pdf

Panel (if known): En Banc

Argument Date: March 19, 2013; Rehearing En Banc Ordered December 12, 2013; Argued En Banc May 28, 2014

Date of Issued Opinion: October 1, 2014

Docket Number: No. 12-2548

Decided: Reversed and Remanded

Case Alert Author: Antoinette Snodgrass

Counsel: Robert A. Zauzmer, Esq., Emily McKillip, Esq., Zane D. Memeger, Esq., and Thomas M. Zaleski, Esq. for the Appellant United States of America; Catherine N. Crump, Esq. for the American Civil Liberties Union; Thomas A. Dreyer, Esq. for the Appellee Harry Katzin; William A. DeStefano, Esq. for Appellee Michael Katzin; Rocco C. Cipparone, Jr., Esq. for Appellee Mark Louis Katzin, Sr.; Brett G. Sweitzer, Esq. for Amicus Appellee Federal Public & Community Defender Organization of the Third Circuit; Benjamin E. Wizner, Esq. for Amicus Appellee American Civil Liberties Union; Sara J. Rose, Esq., Witold J. Walczak, Esq. for Amicus Appellee American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Pennsylvania; Hanni M. Fakhoury, Esq., Marcia Hoffman, Esq. for Amicus Appellee Electronic Frontier Foundation; Peter Goldberger, Esq. for Appellee National Associate of Criminal Defense Lawyers

Author of Opinion: Judge Van Antwerpen

Circuit: Third Circuit

Case Alert Supervisor: Prof. Susan L. DeJarnatt

    Posted By: Susan DeJarnatt @ 10/02/2014 02:46 PM     3rd Circuit  

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