State v. Lane, 280 N.C. App. 264, 2021-NCCOA-593 (Nov. 2, 2021)

In this Wake County case, evidence of the defendant’s crimes was obtained using a GPS tracking device installed, pursuant to a court order, on a car owned by Sherry Harris and driven by Ronald Lee Evans. Evans was the target of the investigation. When officers intercepted the vehicle as it returned from a trip to New York, the defendant was driving and Evans was a passenger. After an initial mistrial, the defendant ultimately pled guilty to attempted trafficking heroin by possession and trafficking heroin by transportation, but preserved his right to appeal the trial court’s denial of his motion to suppress evidence obtained as a result of the GPS device.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the defendant did not have standing to challenge use of the GPS device. Under the common law trespass theory of a search, a search happens when government agents intrude into a constitutionally protected area to obtain information. Here, the defendant offered no evidence that he possessed the car to which the GPS device was attached such that any trespass by the government violated his rights as opposed to the rights of the owner (Harris) or usual driver (Evans). Likewise under a reasonable expectation of privacy theory, the defendant could not show that he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his movements in someone else’s car on a public thoroughfare. To the contrary, the Court said, “[f]or the Defendant, the [car] was a vehicle for a trip to conduct a heroin transaction. Defendant did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy to confer standing to challenge the court order issue on probable cause.” Slip op. ¶ 30.