Judge tosses 150 pounds of marijuana over GPS use in Kentucky

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LOUISVILLE — When Kentucky State Troopers stopped 49-year-old Robert Dale Lee on Interstate 75 in September 2011, they knew he would be coming their way and what to look for in his car.

The Drug Enforcement Administration had been following Lee’s car from Chicago using a GPS — a tracking device placed on the vehicle as part of a multi-state drug probe — and troopers found 150 lbs of marijuana in his car.

Now, a federal judge has ruled the stash inadmissible in the case against Lee because the DEA and troopers didn’t have a warrant to place the device on the car.

“In this case, the DEA agents had their fishing poles out to catch Lee,” Judge Amul R. Thapar wrote. “Admittedly, the agents did not intend to break the law. But, they installed a GPS device on Lee’s car without a warrant in the hope that something might turn up.”

Lee is charged with conspiracy to distribute marijuana. No trial date has been set. His attorney, Michael Murphy of Lexington, did not immediately return a message seeking comment Wednesday.

Kyle Edelen, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Lexington, said prosecutors are reviewing the ruling and evaluating whether to appeal Thapar’s decision.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January struck down law enforcement’s use of GPS tracking in investigations without a warrant. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the 5-member majority that it was the attachment of the device that violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. That case involved a GPS placed on the Jeep of suspected Washington, D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones. The ruling overturned Jones’ conviction and life sentence.

Lee’s case predated that ruling, so the admissibility of the marijuana remained in question until Thapar’s decision.

The case arose after a cooperating witness told investigators that Lee, who previously served 42 months in federal prison for gun and drug convictions, had been buying marijuana in Chicago and bringing it back to eastern Kentucky in his car.

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