A federal appeals court in Portland has ruled that mobile tracking devices may be attached to suspect vehicles as part of a marijuana investigation in Oregon.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court in the case of former Medford resident Juan Pineda-Moreno, who argued his constitutional rights were violated when U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents attached devices to his sport-utility vehicle.
Pineda-Moreno's case was first heard by Judge Owen Panner in Medford's U.S. District Court.
The DEA agents used several of the devices to track the SUV after they learned Pineda-Moreno and his associates had purchased large amounts of fertilizer, groceries, irrigation equipment and deer repellent at several stores in the Medford area in May and June 2007.
Over a four-month period, agents repeatedly monitored Pineda-Moreno's Jeep using various types of mobile tracking devices. Each device was about the size of a bar of soap and had a magnet affixed to its side, allowing it to be attached to the underside of the car, court records said.
The devices were installed on seven different occasions. On four of the occasions, the vehicle was parked on a public street in front of Pineda-Moreno's home. On one occasion, it was located in a public parking lot. On the other two occasions, it was parked in Pineda-Moreno's driveway, a few feet from the side of his trailer.
Once in place, the tracking devices recorded and logged the precise movements of the vehicle.
On Sept 12, 2007, information from the device alerted agents that Pineda-Moreno's vehicle was leaving a suspected marijuana grow site. Agents followed the Jeep, pulled it over, and subsequently performed a search of both the vehicle and Pineda-Moreno's home with his consent. In Pineda-Moreno's trailer, agents found two large garbage bags of marijuana, records show.
On Nov. 2, 2007, a grand jury indicted Pineda-Moreno on one count of conspiracy to manufacture marijuana.
In District Court, Pineda-Moreno's attorneys moved to suppress the evidence obtained from the mobile tracking devices, arguing that the agents violated his Fourth Amendment rights by attaching the devices and invading an area in which he possessed a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Panner denied the motion to suppress and Pineda-Moreno entered a conditional guilty plea, reserving the right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.
The appeals court heard arguments in the case on Oct. 5, 2009. Judge Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain noted in the courts ruling, filed on Jan. 11, that the agents attached the devices while the vehicle was parked in a driveway and in public areas, including a street and parking lot. O'Scannlain upheld Panner's original ruling, stating Pineda-Moreno had no reasonable expectation of privacy at any of those sites.
"We conclude that the police did not conduct an impermissible search of Pineda-Moreno's car by monitoring its location with mobile tracking devices," the judge wrote.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.