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Wertz v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

July 7, 2015

Christopher Wertz, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff,

Page 277

Appeal from the Madison Circuit Court. Honorable Dennis Carroll, Judge. Cause No. 48C06-1112-FC-2380.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: B. Joseph Davis, Law Office of B. Joseph Davis, PC, Muncie, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Brian Reitz, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Robb, Judge. Riley, J., and Bailey, J., concur.

OPINION

Page 278

Robb, Judge.

Case Summary and Issue

[¶1] Christopher Wertz brings this interlocutory appeal, challenging the trial court's denial of his motion to suppress. He presents one issue, which is a matter of first impression: whether the warrantless search of his personal Garmin Global Positioning System (" GPS" ) device violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[1] We conclude Wertz's GPS device is not a " container" under the automobile exception and that he has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the device and its contents. Therefore, the warrantless search of the GPS device violated the Fourth Amendment. We reverse and remand.

Facts and Procedural History[2]

[¶2] On September 9, 2011, Wertz was driving in Madison County when he lost control of his vehicle and struck a utility pole. Wertz was severely injured, and his passenger, Megan Solinski, died at the scene of the accident as a result of injuries sustained. Law enforcement officers found a Garmin GPS device, which belonged to Wertz, near the wrecked vehicle.

[¶3] Approximately one week after the accident, law enforcement officers visited Wertz at the hospital and obtained written consent to examine the content saved in the GPS unit. However, the GPS required a pin code to access the device, which Captain Rick Garrett obtained by contacting the company that produces the GPS device, Garmin International. Once that passcode was retrieved, an officer was able to collect information from the GPS device, including the route Wertz traveled and his speed at the time of the accident.

[¶4] The State charged Wertz with reckless homicide, a Class C felony, and Wertz filed a motion to suppress evidence obtained through the warrantless search of his GPS device. The trial court found that Wertz's consent to search the device was invalid because he was on pain medication at the time the officers received his consent; however, the trial court held that Wertz had no reasonable expectation of privacy in the GPS device and thus the information collected from it was admissible.

[¶5] A jury trial was held in March 2014 but ended in a mistrial, and a second jury trial was scheduled to take place on July 29, 2014. In the interim, the United States Supreme Court decided Riley v. California, 134 S.Ct. 2473, 189 L.Ed.2d 430 (2014),

Page 279

which held that a warrant was required to search digital information on an arrestee's cell phone. Wertz reacted by requesting that the trial court reconsider his motion to suppress in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Riley. The trial court revisited the matter but ultimately issued an order on August 4, 2014, denying Wertz's renewed motion to suppress.

[¶6] On August 22, 2014, Wertz filed a motion to certify the trial court's order for interlocutory appeal, which the trial court granted on August 26, 2014. On September 11, 2014, Wertz requested that the Court of Appeals accept jurisdiction of the appeal, and we accepted jurisdiction on October 9, 2014. On appeal, the only issue is whether the search of Wertz's GPS device violated a reasonable expectation of privacy. The State does not challenge the trial court's determination that Wertz did not provide valid consent for the search.

Discussion and Decision

I. Standard of Review

[¶7] When reviewing a trial court's denial of a defendant's motion to suppress, we view conflicting factual evidence in the light most favorable to the ruling but we will also consider substantial and uncontested evidence favorable to the defendant. Robinson v. State, 5 N.E.3d 362, 365 (Ind. 2014). That said, the constitutionality of a search or seizure is a question of law, which we review de novo. Id.

[¶8] The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects " [t]he right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures . . . ." " [T]he ultimate touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is 'reasonableness[.]'" Brigham City v. Stuart, 547 U.S. 398, 403, 126 S.Ct. 1943, 164 L.Ed.2d 650 (2006). We approach cases involving warrantless searches with the basic understanding that " searches conducted outside the judicial process, without prior approval by judge or magistrate, are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment--subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions." Arizona v. Gant, 556 U.S. 332, 338, 129 S.Ct. 1710, 173 L.Ed.2d 485 (2009) (quoting Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347, 357, 88 S.Ct. 507, 19 L.Ed.2d 576 (1967) (footnote omitted)). Where there is no clear practice concerning the constitutionality of a search, the reasonableness of the search is judged by balancing " the degree to which it intrudes upon an individual's privacy and . . . the degree to which it is needed for the promotion of legitimate governmental interests." Wyoming v. Houghton, 526 U.S. 295, 299-300, 119 S.Ct. 1297, 143 L.Ed.2d 408 (1999).

II. Wertz's GPS Device

[¶9] The Garmin GPS device searched by the State was personally owned by Wertz and kept in his vehicle. The device includes pre-loaded street maps and the ability to store hundreds of waypoints and locations. The device is also compatible with micro SD cards, which are routinely able to store 16 to 128 gigabytes (GB) of data. In addition, Wertz's GPS device is designed to automatically record and store information such as location, past routes traveled, and speed. It is because of that automated ...


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