The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
GPS search warrant bill passes
By Chelyen Davis
RICHMOND—State legislators have approved bills that require police to get search warrants to track a suspect using a GPS device.
But the fact that someone has been tracked that way would only become public when it leads to criminal charges.
The bills were proposed by Gov. Bob McDonnell after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that said police could not use tracking devices without warrants.
Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, sponsored the Senate version.
The bills were the subject of much contention in the lawyer-heavy Courts committees of the legislature, where lawmakers tried to figure out exactly how a police officer should get such a warrant and how to keep it private while a criminal investigation is ongoing.
The bills as passed on Thursday allow police to ask a judge for a warrant to track a person, a vehicle or an object. They can get the warrant to use the device for 30 days, although they can ask for an extension of that time.
Under the bills, police will have to tell the person who was tracked that they were tracked within 10 days of removing the device. But otherwise the documents related to the search warrant and the device are sealed, unless that information comes out in a court case.
Senators voted down a proposed amendment from Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, to make that information public.
Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, argued against Edwards’ amendment, because he said when police are tracking someone, that person is likely to conduct non-criminal business as well, and that shouldn’t be public information.
“There could be some pretty embarrassing conversations that could cause life-altering events for that individual that may not be criminal and may not be related to that criminal investigation,” Stuart said. “We don’t want to disclose what these people are doing privately in their lives without criminal intent.”
The Virginia Press Association also had pushed for including a provision to unseal the information.
Reeves argued against it.
“This is not a normal search warrant. We are not busting in somebody’s door,” he said. “As much as I would like to allow the press access to a lot of things, this is not one of the things.”
Chelyen Davis: 804/343-2245