Arizona Court Re-Examines Use of GPS Data in Murder Case

Recently, an individual involved in an Arizona murder case appealed a lower court’s decision to use GPS data to track his car on the night of his brother’s death. The individual was with his brother and two friends on the evening his brother was killed, and one of the friends, this case’s defendant, was charged with the murder. Soon, though, the defendant filed a motion to compel evidence, asking the court to examine GPS data from the victim’s brother’s truck. According to the defendant, this evidence would show that the victim’s brother was the one who committed the murder. The court allowed the use of the GPS evidence, and the victim’s brother challenged this decision.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant, the brother, and two other friends were all together one evening. The events that transpired are unclear, but one of the friends was murdered in the early morning by knife wounds. Six days after the death, one of the individuals, the defendant in this case, was charged with the murder. Because the brother was also present, he was labeled as a “victim” in the case.

Shortly after the State charged the defendant, the defendant filed what is called a “notice of a third-party defense,” meaning he advised the court that he thought another person committed the murder – specifically, he thought the victim’s brother was the proper suspect.

The defendant asked the court to consider GPS data from the brother’s car, which the court allowed. The brother filed an appeal, leading the appeals court to re-evaluate when it is appropriate for a trial court to compel an individual to hand over GPS data that it would not typically have at its disposal.

The Decision

In its decision, the appeals court decided that the circumstances warranted compelling the brother to provide the GPS data. Here, several factors were relevant. First, it seemed to the court that the defendant had reason to believe the brother might have been guilty of the murder – the defendant was not trying to send the court down a rabbit hole of useless information. Next, the data would reveal the defendant’s precise location, meaning it would be helpful for the court in determining whether the brother was guilty.

In general, the court determined that a defendant is entitled to receive evidence from a victim if the defendant is looking for evidence that is necessary to his defense and if the defendant can show that the requested evidence is very likely to help his case. This new standard will set the tone for similar cases going forward.

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