Constitution Allows Boat GPS Search With Consent

By George Khoury, Esq. on April 18, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Fourth Amendment rights of a man convicted of inducing and assisting immigrants to illegally enter the United States were not violated when federal authorities reviewed the GPS log found aboard his boat. Perhaps the most curious fact is that the defendant actually consented to a search of his boat both verbally and in writing.

During the search, inside one of the boat's compartments, a GPS device was found. When the data on the device was reviewed, it was revealed that the boat captain, Maikel Suarez Plasencia, had been less than forthcoming with the authorities when they found him in his broken down boat, beached along a public waterway. Federal authorities connected Suarez to a group of over 20 undocumented individuals from Cuba that had been dropped off elsewhere and claimed to have washed ashore on a raft.

The GPS Tells No Lies

The captain appealed on several bases, but his ticket to a retrial was proving that the lower court erred when it failed to suppress the GPS evidence. He argued that the data contained on the GPS required a warrant, despite his giving consent to search his boat. The appellate court did not agree, and found that the consent the captain provided enabled the authorities to review the GPS data.

After Suarez was convicted, at sentencing, the court found that an enhancement was proper, given that the captain allowed many people to testify falsely on his behalf. The court reasoned that the GPS data was clear, and the captain knew the truth, yet allowed multiple people to perjure themselves regardless.

The appellate court rejected each of the defendant's arguments that the enhancement was imposed improperly. The court even explained that Suarez was not denied due process when the sentencing enhancement was ordered, but rather, his attorney simply failed to even argue against it. However, given the tenor of the decision, and hindsight, the prior attorney's failure was more than likely a mix of pragmatism and strategy.

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