With the recent death of OJ Simpson, we are reminded of the police pursuit of OJ’s Bronco through Los Angeles and Orange Counties. While the OJ chase was a slow-speed chase, many police pursuits are high speed and dangerous. Some of these chases have ended in fatalities. Because they are so dangerous, police often terminate the pursuit in the interests of public safety. Fortunately, high speed chases will soon be a thing of the past.

In a marriage of low tech and high tech, police cruisers are being fitted with GPS launchers. The launchers, mounted to the front of police vehicles, hold GPS darts that when deployed stick to the target vehicle. The police need to chase a vehicle only long enough to be within range to deploy the dart. The dart is fired using laser assist. The dart’s sticky substance allows the dart to stick even if the target vehicle is wet or dirty.  Once the dart sticks to the evading vehicle, the police can track the vehicle’s movements and location. Currently the use of the darts is somewhat hampered because they have a limited range (about 20 to 30 feet).

Is this a violation of the Fourth Amendment warrantless search and seizure prohibitions? In 2012, the United States Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement serendipitously placing a GPS tracking device on a vehicle without a warrant was an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment.

While no court case has yet to challenge the legality of the GPS tracking darts, it is unlikely that these darts would be held as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The tracking darts are fundamentally different from a GPS tracking device secretly placed on a citizen’s vehicle by law enforcement. Furthermore, there are clearly delineated exceptions to the warrant requirements. One of these is “exigent circumstances.”  Among the exigent circumstances enunciated by the Supreme Court is when law enforcement is in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect. It has long been held that a legitimate “hot pursuit” does not require a warrant.  There might be a case to be made if the police deploy this device on a routine vehicle stop, where the driver decides to evade, but if the police are pursuing a murder suspect or a driver suspected of some other violent felony, the exigent circumstance exception is definitely in play.

Unquestionably, these GPS tracking darts will assist law enforcement in catching up with a fleeing vehicle before the suspect has a chance to evade police. But more important, these devices are a far safer alternative to a kinetic police pursuit.

Some California law enforcement departments are using this technology, including Orange County agencies. Certainly, this technology will soon herald an end to dangerous high-speed pursuits on our California roads and highways.

Orange County criminal defense attorney William Weinberg is available for a complimentary consultation to discuss your criminal matter and review your defense options. He may be contacted by email at bill@williamweinberg.com or by calling his Irvine office at 949-474-8008.