In upholding the conviction of Josue Acosta Marquez, (a.k.a. Martin Contreras-Pulido) in an interstate marijuana smuggling case, the Circuit Court judges wrote that federal agents and Iowa cops did nothing wrong when they planted the electronic monitoring device on a pickup truck used by Marquez while it was parked at a Wal-Mart. Police accessed the unit seven times to change the batteries -- always in a public place -- and tracked the pickup as it drove between Des Moines and Denver.
Since anyone can see a vehicle parked or driving in public places, the use of electronics to enhance surveillance doesn't violate Fourth Amendment rights regarding unreasonable search and seizure, wrote Justices Roger Wollman, James Loken and John Gibson.
No warrant neeeded. And there's nothing stopping cops from planting those suckers as often and wherever they like, says the Eighth Court judges.
First, I have always thought that extended surveillance of a home or moving vehicle, beyond say a few hours, should require a warrant, even if it is all performed in public places. I think most folks would consider such actions by a private party to be intrusive (thus many state stalking laws) and we generally hold the state to an even tighter standard.
Second, cost is important. A surveillance approach that is difficult and expensive is less likely to be abused than one that is suddenly 10x or even 100x less expensive. The judges acknowledge this, but then ignore the problem completely in their statement when they write:
It is imaginable that a police unit could undertake "wholesale surveillance" by attaching such devices to thousands of random cars and then analyzing the volumes of data produced for suspicious patterns of activity. Id. Such an effort, if it ever occurred, would raise different concerns than the ones present here.
Just get a freaking warrant -- its not that hard, especially in this case when we are talking about extended surveillance and no particular rush to get started. This kind of lazy law enforcement has become endemic, and we shouldn't tolerate it.