US v Plasencia – 11th Circuit (11APR2018)

US v Plasencia – 11th Circuit (11APR2018)

The primary issue in this case is whether voluntary consent to search a boat extends to searching the GPS device on board for location evidence. In this case from the 11th circuit, a park ranger asked the defendant in this case if he could search the defendant’s boat. The defendant consented both orally and by signing a consent form. The consent form authorized the park ranger to perform a complete search of the vessel and sees its contents for any legitimate law enforcement purpose.

A full search of the vessel was conducted by the park ranger. On board the boat was a GPS device and the Ranger plugged the GPS device into the power source and as a result found location evidence that was used to implicate the defendant in a human smuggling operation. The defendant sought to suppress the location information arguing that it exceeded the scope of the consent given.

The court noted that the government bears the burden of showing that it search was conducted within the scope of the consent received. When an individual gives a general statement of consent without express limitations than the scope is constrained by the bounds of reasonableness. In this case, the defendant consented to a complete search of the boat and to seizure of its contents for any legitimate law enforcement purpose. The defendant did not limit the scope of his consent in any way. The court also noted that the boat was beached 70 miles from Key West and a reasonable person would understand that giving complete consent to the search of the boat would include consenting to the search of a GPS that could indicate where the boat had been and shed light on why it is beached so far out in the ocean. Under its analysis, the court concluded that the complete consent included the ability to power up the GPS and look for location information. The court affirmed the District Court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress the evidence.

For a full PDF version of this decision, click here.