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US Supreme Court decision affects local case

A recent United States Supreme Court decision prompted evidence to be suppressed and charges to be dropped against a suspected burglar in February.

The Supreme Court's decision in the case of the United States vs. Jones ruled that police need to obtain a warrant before attaching a GPS tracking device to a suspect's vehicle. This decision recently prompted a St. Croix County judge to rule in favor of suppressing evidence in a local burglary case.

The defendant, Joseph Kleschult, was charged with three counts of burglary and two counts of theft.

In 2009, Kleschult was suspected of robbing the Somerset Drug pharmacy and stealing prescription-grade narcotics on three separate occasions, according to the St. Croix County Court case file.

In March 2009, Somerset police placed a GPS tracking device on a vehicle belonging to Kleshult.

Information from the GPS tracker provided evidence that the prosecution planned to use in its case against Kleschult.

According to the case file, on April 4, 2009, the GPS tracking device indicated Kleschult's vehicle was near Somerset Drug in the early hours of the morning. Also on April 4, 2009, Ken Nelson, owner of Somerset Drug, reported a break in. Items containing the Somerset Drug logo were also allegedly found along the route the GPS device indicated Kleschult's vehicle had traveled.

Kleschult was then arrested and charged with three counts of robbery and two counts of theft.

The defense moved to suppress evidence collected after the GPS tracking device was attached to Kleschult's vehicle.

According to Assistant District Attorney Michael Nieskes, it was initially ruled that Wisconsin did not require a search warrant, and therefore the evidence did not need to be suppressed. At that point, the case was to move forward. However, the United States Supreme Court's decision in the Jones case prompted a St. Croix County judge to review the decision not to suppress the evidence.

After the Jones decision was announced, the St. Croix County Court reversed its decision and the evidence was suppressed. The case was unable to go forward with no evidence to support it and the charges were dropped.

Nieskes said Somerset police were not at fault for placing the GPS on Kleschult's vehicle without first obtaining a warrant, as it was legal to place the device without a warrant at that time.

However, the United States Supreme Court deals in case law, interpreting laws that have already been written and put into effect. Nieskes said when the Supreme Court makes a decision, it is deciding on the interpretation of an existing law, not creating a new one.

Therefore, he said, while the police weren't doing anything wrong as they were within the law to the best of their knowledge at the time, placing the GPS device without first obtaining a warrant is still grounds for suppressing the evidence.

Nieskes had no further comment on the matter. Kleschult's attorney Donald Schwab said he is pleased with the court's decision.

"I think it was the correct outcome considering the U.S. Supreme Court decision," Schwab said.

Nelson said he was disappointed the charges against Kleschult were dropped.

"I just hope that justice is done," Nelson said. "These robberies occurred three years ago and to date this individual... has not paid a price for it."

Kleschult is currently facing new theft charges as well as for criminal damage to property and three counts of bail jumping, according to Wisconsin Court records.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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