OGDEN -- The Utah Court of Appeals has declined to consider a challenge to Utah's law governing police attachment of GPS tracking units to private vehicles.
The court gave notice last week to 2nd District Judge Mike DiReda that it declined to hear an appeal from accused bobcat poacher Jared Beal.
DiReda had denied suppression motions that sought to throw out the GPS data that led to Beal's arrest.
"They've declined to hear the issues at this point," said Brenda Beaton, Beal's lead counsel. "It doesn't mean they've decided the issues."
The court chose not to review the motions before Beal's upcoming trial, but they can be raised again if Beal is convicted.
Beal is charged with 12 counts of wanton destruction of protected wildlife; half are felony counts. Each count represents multiple bobcats trapped and killed illegally.
The veteran bobcat trapper was found with 31 bobcat pelts in his North Ogden home when he was arrested Jan. 29, 2008. Only six are allowed per permit.
Wildlife officers used the satellite-aided device to track Beal's visits to an estimated 35 trap sites in Weber, Box Elder and Tooele counties from Nov. 16, 2007, through Jan. 29, 2008.
Utah law requires only an "authorization" from a judge to allow police to place mobile tracking devices on private vehicles.
No search warrant, with its affidavit of probable cause that a crime has been committed, is needed.
The Weber County Attorney's Office has successfully argued the GPS unit is not invasive enough to require a warrant for its authorization, despite Beaton's claim that it's unconstitutional.
"It's not very intrusive, which is why we don't even need probable cause in getting a judge's authorization," said Deputy Weber County Attorney Gary Heward.
But Utah law does require a search warrant from a judge, he said, before an officer can venture onto private property to attach such a device.
Beal's attorneys have challenged Utah's authorization statute in several motions and oral argument hearings, most recently in November.
"We don't think it's legal," Beaton said in an interview. "It doesn't even have a reasonable suspicion standard. It just requires that the use of the GPS unit be part of a criminal investigation.
"No other investigative tool has that kind of minimal authorization that I'm aware of."
Even the use of thermal imaging equipment by police to measure heat levels from grow lamps used for suspected indoor marijuana crops requires a search warrant, she said.
Other states have a higher standard for GPS authorizations, such as search warrants, Beaton said, and some have a lower standard.
Some don't mandate police to even seek authorization from a judge before attaching GPS units to citizens' cars, she said.
Beaton and co-counsel Kris Greenwood and Jennifer Gowan first argued the GPS authorization statute violated the U.S. Constitution in motions seeking to suppress the GPS data on Beal, which DiReda denied.
Beaton then refiled the motions for review against the Utah Constitution, seen as stronger on individual liberties than the federal standards, with no better luck.
"Utah's appellate courts have recently indicated they are willing to consider more restrictions on (police) searches," she said in October.
Beal's trial, which had been set for June, was moved last week to August, with the agreement of both the prosecution and defense.