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Fourth Amendment violation saved by the inevitable discovery exception

Latecia Watkins was a supervisor at the Boca Raton, Florida, Post Office when she was arrested on for importing more than five kilograms of cocaine into the United States. Here is how it unfolded.

Two packages from Trinidad and Tobago addressed to the Boca Raton Post Office were intercepted at the international mail facility and found to contain cocaine. Law enforcement agents removed the drugs and placed a GPS tracking device with sham cocaine into the packages and put both packages into the mail stream headed to the original destinations.

The agents monitored the GPS and the Post Office’s internal tracking system. They set up surveillance of the Boca Raton Post Office the morning of August 11, 2017 when they expected the packages to be delivered. The GPS device stopped working but they were able to track the packages by the Post Office tracking system. They began to realize some strange occurrences because one of the packages addressed to a Boca Raton post office which did not have a P.O. box number was accepted without the number. Normally a package could not be received unless the addressee had a rented a post office box. The agents then suspected an inside job and the suspect was most likely a supervisor and not just an employee because a postal employee would not have access to certain aspects of the scanning system to manipulate the tracking history of the package.

Ms. Watkins stood out as a suspect because she was a supervisor and apparently, she had some issues with the postal service. When the agents entered the Boca Raton post office facility, she appeared anxious, nervous, and scared, but they did not tell her why they were there. After the post office closed, they discovered the packages missing.

While the post office, the GPS device began pinging, but prior to the device activating, they had decided to conduct a “knock and talk” at Watkin’s house. A Google search showed the device was at her house. They arrived at her house and when she came to the door, she admitted she knew they were there about the packages, voluntarily confessed and was arrested.

Watkins filed a motion to suppress the confession because the government had to have a warrant to monitor the tracking device that was out of visual surveillance and located in Watkin’s home where she had a right to privacy. The magistrate judge denied the motion, but the district court granted it and threw out the confession based on a Fourth Amendment violation.

The court of appeals disagreed and reversed the lower court’s order excluding the confession because it found the inevitable discovery exception applied to this Fourth Amendment violation.  It applies where there is a reasonable probability that the evidence discovered by a violation of the Fourth Amendment would have turned up anyway, that the violation is harmless and the circumstances are that the public interest in having juries receive all probative evidence of a crime outweighs the need to discourage police misconduct. The court of appeals found the package would have been found anyway because the decision to do a “knock and talk” at Watkin’s house was made before the device reactivated.


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