GPS is accurate enough for evidence


Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat told the story (U-B June 17) of locating a stolen iPad by the GPS location sent to a phone. The police insisted they could not get a search warrant to recover the stolen iPad, reasoning that GPS is not accurate enough to convince a judge of probable cause.

This is a misperception by the legal profession that needs correcting. Pilots, farmers and geocachers have known for decades that GPS is accurate enough to pinpoint an object’s location to a particular corner of a particular room of a particular house, let alone to the house itself.

Judges have guidelines for acceptable evidence concerning fingerprints and DNA. Now is high time to catch up to the rest of the world concerning GPS.

Jim Thorn



PearlY 1 year, 2 months ago

I read the Westneat column, and unfortunately, it sounds like the Mountlake Terrace Police Department just didn't want to be bothered, and used the accuracy of the GPS as an excuse to avoid even trying to get a warrant.

If the victim of this crime had waited until the home's occupants had left, entered the residence, unarmed, retrieved his belongings and ONLY his belongings, and caused no unnessary harm to the property in doing so, he would have been guilty, at most, of criminal trespass, a gross misdemeanor, assuming he was caught and charged.

A defense to criminal trespass is to reasonably believe "that the owner of the premises or other person empowered to license access thereto, would have licensed him or her to enter or remain."

I have a strong belief in the inherent goodness of everyone, even burglars. I just KNOW in my heart, a burglar who has stolen my property is just too embarrassed to come forward and return it, and wants nothing better than to have me take the stuff off his hands. I truly believe that I'm doing him a favor by entering and retrieving it, and that he would give me permission if I asked. The only reason I don't ask is to save him the embarrassment.

Would a jury of my peers believe that this is how I truly feel? Or would they convict me of criminal trespass for going in to retrieve my belongings in these circumstances, when the police have refused to help?

Well, that's not legal advice, of course, but I'd sure run it by my lawyer if I found myself in this victim's shoes.


guycnelson 1 year, 2 months ago

Criminal trespass might not be the way to go. Might get you shot before you get to court.

I bet the police could have figured out how to get a warrant if they wanted to. GPS is a technology familiar to police.


PearlY 1 year, 2 months ago

Yes, it might. Hey, I didn't say it was risk free. Only that it MIGHT pass legal muster. To me, the first consideration would be, how big of a legal risk is it? I'm not going to accept a serious risk jail, a criminal record, loss of gun rights, etc. over stuff.

The physical risks could then be assessed further: What are the criminal histories of the occupants (are they cockroaches or rattlesnakes), how many are there, can they be enticed out of the house for the requisite time ("Your household just won a free pizza and beer at X Pub, dine-in only!), are the neighbors nosy, would the landlord authorize me to inspect the house for possible purchase giving me a plausible cover story if the occupants return, etc.

For $10,000 worth of my stuff, including personal data that opens me to identity theft, and given a completely unhelpful police dept., I'd give self-help measures some serious thought and planning.


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