Judge: GPS use illegal in Ky. drug bust

Authorities seized 150 pounds of marijuana, but the evidence has now been ruled inadmissible

By PoliceOne Staff

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A federal judge has ruled that investigators illegally placed a GPS tracking device on a man's truck and has prohibited prosecutors from using the huge stash of drugs found in a search of the vehicle.

Robert Dale Lee, 49, was being tracked from Chicago by the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of a multi-state drug probe when Kentucky State Troopers stopped him on Interstate 75 and searched his car in 2011, according to the Associated Press

Authorities seized 150 pounds of marijuana, but the evidence has now been ruled inadmissible in the case against Lee because the GPS device was installed without a warrant.

"In this case, the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee," U.S. District Judge Amul R. Thapar wrote. "Admittedly, the agents did not intend to break the law. But, they installed a GPS device on Lee's car without a warrant in the hope that something might turn up."

The case arose after a witness informed authorities that Lee had been buying marijuana and transporting it from Chicago to Kentucky. While Lee met with a federal probation officer in London, Ky., a DEA officer, who did not consult a judge, placed the device on Lee's truck.

Three days later, DEA agents told Kentucky State Trooper Matt Hutti the truck "probably contained marijuana" and that the trooper would need probable cause to conduct a traffic stop. 

Hutti was patrolling along I-75 when he spotted Lee driving without a seat belt, pulled over the truck and obtained consent for a search, which turned up the stash.

In January the Supreme Court mandated law enforcement obtain a warrant before using GPS tracking in investigations, citing the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Lee is being held at the Laurel County Detention Center while awaiting trial on a charge of conspiracy to distribute marijuana.

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