Prosecutors in Washington want a federal judge to throw out a challenge over evidence in the case that was the centerpiece of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on tracking criminal suspects without a warrant.
At issue in the dispute in Washington's federal trial court is the ability of the U.S. Justice Department to link physical evidence-cocaine, cash and other items—without the use of global positioning system data that the high court voided.
Prosecutors in Washington relied on GPS information to link the defendant, Antoine Jones, a former nightclub owner, with the nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine and $850,000 the authorities seized in a raid in 2005 at a house in Maryland along the Potomac River. Jones's attorney contends the evidence should not be allowed now that prosecutors cannot use the GPS data.
Government lawyers said Friday in a court filing (PDF) that investigators would have found the alleged drug stash house without the use of GPS data. The DOJ legal team, including assistant U.S. attorney Darlene Soltys, urged U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle not to block the evidence.
The main thrust of the government's argument: Federal agents had already focused the investigation on the drug house before the GPS device was attached to Jones's vehicle. The tracking device produced more than 2,000 pages of data over a month-long period in 2005.
The Supreme Court, upholding an appellate court decision, ruled that the device, attached without a warrant, violated the unreasonable search protection of the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last year vacated Jones's conviction and life sentence.
Prosecutors said the "GPS data from the vehicle tracker played no role" in the FBI's discovery of the drug stash house. The government said the house would have been "inevitably discovered" based on the direction of the investigation.
"It is certainly possible to speculate that a GPS system on a vehicle could be a critical component in finding a particular location visited by that vehicle," prosecutors said in the court papers. "But, that is not the question that matters here."
The issue, prosecutors said, is "whether the defendant can demonstrate that the GPS data played that role here, and he simply cannot make that showing."
Jones's lawyer, A. Eduardo Balarezo, is also challenging the merits of intercepted phone calls and the seizure of text messages. Jones, according to the authorities, was in consistent contact with a person whose vehicle was at the Maryland stash house.
Earlier this year, prosecutors in Washington said they intended to use cell tower information to connect Jones to the Maryland house.
The authorities at one point in the investigation contacted Nextel to acquire the latitude and longitude of a mobile phone that was being monitored in the probe, according to court records.
Prosecutors said agents obtained the location data from the carrier via a "pen register"—a device that determines the entry of an outgoing phone number—that Magistrate Judge John Facciola signed in September 2005.
The government contends Jones has no legal standing to challenge the GPS location of that phone, which did not belong to him. An agent used Google maps to enter the GPS coordinates, court records show. The information put the phone near the driveway of the drug stash house, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors said they expect to have a hearing on the drug evidence dispute. No hearing date is set. Jones remains in federal custody pending the new trial.