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High Court Rules that GPS Tracking Device Data is Admissible without Expert Testimony

                         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.

                         The 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.

                         The 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 these services:

Bankruptcy and ForeclosureBusiness LawCivil LitigationCriminal DefenseEmployment, Disability, and Consumer RightsFamily LawGovernment Contracts LawIntellectual Property, Personal InjuryReal Estate, Social Security Disability & Workers’ Compensation and Wills, Trusts, & Estates

 

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Suite 2030

Lexington Park, MD 20653

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Samuel C.P. Baldwin, Jr., Esq.

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With an office conveniently located in Lexington Park, The Law Offices of Baldwin & Briscoe, P.C. serves clients in the counties and cities of Lexington Park, Leonardtown, Hollywood, Mechanicsville, Loveville, Helen, Breton Bay, Chaptico, Charlotte Hall, Golden Beach, Avenue, La Plata, Waldorf, Newburg, Port Tobacco, Port Charles, Solomons Island, Prince Frederick, Chesapeake Shores, Hughesville, Benedict, Nanjemoy, Lusby, Port Republic, St. Mary's County, Charles County, Calvert County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland.


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