The Washington-area man at the center of the government surveillance dispute that reached the U.S. Supreme Court is fighting to convince a judge not to allow jurors to hear about the tens of thousands of dollars of cocaine federal agents seized in 2005.
Prosecutors used information obtained through a Global Positioning System device, secretly attached to a vehicle, to link the man to a drug stash house in Maryland. A judge sentenced the man, Antoine Jones, a nightclub owner, to life in prison for his leadership role in a drug trafficking conspiracy.
But a federal appeals court tossed the conviction, saying the authorities violated Jones's Fourth Amendment rights via the warrantless installation of the GPS tracking device. The Supreme Court this year upheld the ruling. Now, prosecutors say they don't need the GPS information at trial. The government contends it found the stash house through other means.
Jones's lawyer, A. Eduardo Balarezo, isn't buying the government's position. "The government's explanation is too convenient," Balarezo wrote in court papers (PDF) filed today in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Balarezo has asked the trial judge to suppress the drug evidence.
Prosecutors said in court filings that investigators reached out to Nextel the day before the GPS device was activated to obtain the coordinates of a phone that belonged to a man with whom Jones had been in contact.
Balarezo said prosecutors have not identified the investigator who contacted Nextel and that the government has not yet shown him the mobile phone coordinates that agents reportedly received from the company.
"The coordinate could have been for any location, yet the government claims that it immediately undertook a real estate search for houses in the area of the coordinates and then conducted surveillance," Balarezo said.
Prosecutors contend that investigators found the stash house through the phone coordinates, not from the GPS data. Government lawyers also say that wire intercepts and a static camera placed near the drug house confirmed Jones's association with the residence, where agents seized nearly 100 kilograms of cocaine and $850,000 during a raid.
Balarezo today used trial transcripts to try to bolster his argument that prosecutors used the illegally obtained GPS information to locate the drug house. One detective testified that "physical surveillance is actually hard, you know. There's always a chance of getting spotted, you know, the same vehicle always around, so we decided to use GPS technology."
Prosecutors recently said in court papers that the government would have inevitably found the drug house independent of the GPS data that was flowing to agents in real time.
Balarezo said that at most, assuming government statements are true, agents "had a general location" of the house and no connection to Jones.
"For the government to argue that the GPS had nothing to do with locating the house is simply not credible," Balarezo said.
Jones remains in custody pending trial. U.S. District Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle has not said whether she will hold an evidentiary hearing on Jones's effort to suppress the drug evidence.