Global positioning systems and factory-installed “black box” event data recorders effectively keep recently-manufactured vehicles under 24/7 surveillance, providing evidence that can place a suspect at a crime scene, undermine an alibi, expose a cheating spouse, or prove liability in an accident, says the Los Angeles Times. Although privacy rights advocates warn that the devices augment an intrusive network of security cameras, speed-monitoring radars and instantly available databases, police and prosecutors hail them as powerful investigative and forensic tools.
A man suspected of robbery was tracked by Los Angeles Sheriff’s detectives who planted a GPS unit in his car, mapping his movements and using the evidence to convince a jury he was guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. In murder cases in Illinois, Washington, and California, including the trial of Scott Peterson for killing his wife and unborn son, the technology has been credited with helping establish guilt. Advocates of the new investigative tools say the evidence cuts both ways. In a recent trial, an 18-year-old driver was acquitted of speeding charges after data retrieved from his car’s GPS unit refuted police contentions. As with DNA evidence, lawyers must rely on expert witnesses to interpret for a jury the data provided by GPS or automotive black boxes.