Social networking posts lead to judge's order to spy on Carmel man

Police: Lower burden needed to install car tracker

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. - A Hamilton County judge has signed a search warrant that allows police to track a man's car based on photos and bragging he posted on social networking sites.

One investigator with the Hamilton/Boone County Drug Task Force said it's amazing what drug pushers are now posting online, including pictures of themselves using drugs or carrying large quantities of drugs. 

"They tell the world everything," said the officer.

In this case, task force officers were alerted to a series of pictures posted online from a Carmel man. In postings on Instagram and Facebook, the man displayed large amounts of  cash fanned out in front of the camera, as well as one shot of several $100 bills dangling from his mouth.  

Other postings showed a pistol on top of a pile of cash, as well as shots of him holding various guns.  Other pictures appeared to show packages of marijuana, police wrote in their application for a search warrant.

As officers spelled out their probable cause to install a GPS tracking device on the suspect's car, they primarily focused on those social media postings by the suspect. No corroborating witnesses or informants were mentioned, but officers wrote that the man had been convicted of possessing marijuana in the past.

The Superior Court 3 judge signed the warrant last week based on that probable cause affidavit.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January 2012 that police need a search warrant in order to install tracking devices on a suspect's car.

Task force commander Aaron Dietz, an officer with the Carmel Police Department, said the case involves more than merely social networking posts.

"There's more to it than what's there. We didn't pull a rabbit out of a hat with social media," he said.

Dietz said courts require a lesser burden of proof for such tracking of a suspect's car. He said a "higher standard" exists when police ask for search warrants that allow them to enter a person's home or car.

"It's a very minimal invasion because I could follow him myself," said Dietz. "We wouldn't have been able to get a search warrant of a house based on that information."

Among the social networking posts that police presented to the judge in this case, one mentioned traveling out of state to obtain a shipment of marijuana. Officers wrote in their search warrant application that they wanted to install the tracking device to pinpoint who his suppliers might be.

In another posting, someone warned the suspect that "feds are watching" as he posts information about his guns and drugs on social networking sites. The suspect then replied that he did not care because everything on his web postings was legal and belonged to him.

Dietz said his drug task force officers have been using social media for years in criminal cases. He said his officers work to corroborate postings or photos about drugs, and he said this search warrant was an example of how they do that.

"It's one tool to help us validate or invalidate whether they're doing it," he said.

Dietz would not comment about whether the device has already been attached to the suspect's car, saying it could put officers' safety at risk. He said the search warrant was supposed to have been sealed by the judge when it was signed. Since the warrant was available to the public, he said the investigation might be ended early.

 

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