Court Rules that GPS Tracking Device Data is Admissible without Expert
In today’s world, we leave an increasingly
large digital footprint wherever we go.
Using our smartphones, credit cards and other sources, it is often
possible for authorities to trace our steps.
In a case decided on July 27, 2016, the Maryland Court of Appeals held
that the State could introduce records from a GPS device installed on an
employer’s work vehicle without the use of expert testimony under the business records
exception to the Maryland hearsay rule.
In Maryland courts, hearsay is generally not
admissible into evidence. Hearsay is an
out of court statement offered for the truth of the matter asserted. In this case, the state sought to introduce
records from the GPS device to show the location of the work vehicle at various
times. The information was relevant
because the state sought to show where the defendant was at various times as
evidence that he was participating in a theft scheme, stealing copper from his
employer and selling it for scrap. Since
the device is providing information that is being considered by the court and
the device is not a person who can take the stand and be subject to cross
examination, the information provided is hearsay. Hearsay evidence is generally not admissible
at trial because it is generally unreliable.
Without being able to cross examine the source of the information, there
is no way to test the accuracy of the information provided.
Although hearsay is generally inadmissible,
there are some exceptions to the general rule.
One of the well-established exceptions to the hearsay rule is the
business records exception. The Maryland
Rules permit a party to introduce certain records of regularly conducted
business activity without the testimony of the person creating the record. There are four essential findings that the
court must make in order to admit the record: (a) that the record was made at
or near the time of the act, event, condition, or diagnosis; (b) it was made by
a person with knowledge or from information transmitted by a person with
knowledge; (c) it was made and kept in the ordinary course of a regularly
conducted business activity; and (d) the regular practice of that business was
to make and keep the memorandum, report, record or data compilation. The court may still exclude the record if it
finds that the record lacks trustworthiness.
The issue before the court is whether the
information from the GPS device was admissible under the business records
exception to the hearsay rule without the state needing to provide expert
testimony. While a lay or non-expert
witness is permitted to offer opinion testimony that testimony is limited to
the opinions or inference which are rationally based on the perception of the
witness and helpful to a clear understanding of the witness’s testimony or the
determination of a fact in issue. In Gross v. State of Maryland, the
defendant argued that expert testimony was necessary to explain how the GPS
works and most importantly to establish how often it is inaccurate.
Gross court acknowledged in its
opinion that whether to admit this particular evidence was within the sound
discretion of the trial judge. The court
also notes that previous decisions have held that geolocation data from cell
phones could not be admitted without expert testimony. In Gross,
however, the court held that GPS data was different than the geolocation data
from a cell phone. It stated that unlike
the cell phone cases where data had to be interpreted to be understood, here
the witness was simply reading dates, times and addresses from the computer
printout showing where the truck had been located.
The court further recognized that although
no Maryland Court had addressed the issue previously, courts in other
jurisdictions have admitted GPS data without an expert witness. Because the evidence was admissible, the
Court of Special Appeals upheld the conviction.
information contained on this page is provided as general information and does
not constitute legal advice. The
experienced attorneys at Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. can assist you if you are
facing criminal charges of any kind.
We’d be happy to sit down with you and review your situation and provide
appropriate advice. Call today for your
free, no-obligation consultation. All
consultations are strictly confidential.
The Law Offices of Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. also offers
Foreclosure, Business Law, Civil Litigation, Criminal Defense, Employment,
Disability, and Consumer Rights, Family Law, Government Contracts Law, Intellectual Property, Personal Injury, Real Estate, Social Security
Disability & Workers’ Compensation and Wills, Trusts, & Estates