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Ruling shouldn't impact 'Wooded Rapist' convictions

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By PATRICK HALL, The Wilson Post
A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling stating it is illegal for law enforcement to track an individual with Global Positioning System, or G.P.S. units, should not affect any convictions against the Wooded Rapist, according to Tom Swink, assistant district attorney with the 15th Judicial District Attorneys Office.

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision (United States v. Jones), regarding the governments use of G.P.S. tracking in criminal investigations should have no effect on the Burdick case, Swink said.

On Monday, Jan. 23, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that law enforcement must first obtain a warrant before tracking an individual by installing a G.P.S. unit to that individuals vehicle.

In 2008, Robert Jason Burdick was accused of committing at least 13 acts of rape in 14 years in Davidson, Williamson and Wilson Counties since 1994. He was convicted on charges in Davidson and Williamson, sentencing him to up to 112 years in prison

Authorities attached a G.P.S. unit to Burdicks vehicle days before he was arrested on May 1, 2008, for fear that he may commit further crimes. A 16-year-old female, who was assaulted in Wilson County in February 2008, was believed to have been Burdicks final victim.

The charges in Wilson County were retired due to the fact that Burdicks sentence exceeds his life expectancy. Swink, who worked on the case nearly four years ago, said no evidence was obtained through the use of G.P.S. on Burdicks vehicle.

Swink explained that authorities used the G.P.S. in this case to track Burdicks movements and prevent another possible rape while they awaited DNA results from evidence that had already been collected.

In Burdicks case, the police had already collected the evidence which was used later to convict him before they used G.P.S. equipment on his vehicle, Swink noted.

Burdicks attorney, Carrie Gasaway, argued during trial that Burdicks constitutional rights were violated. She recently told Nashville news media the Supreme Court ruling most likely would not be enough to overturn his convictions.

Because the remedy for a constitutional violation in a criminal case is suppression of the evidence obtained as a result, and because no evidence was gleaned from the G.P.S. tracking, there would be nothing to suppress, leaving Burdicks convictions intact, Swink explained.

Although the charges in Wilson County were retired, prosecutors are able to bring the case back before the court at any time. There is a 15-year statute of limitations in the case and should any convictions be overturned, the local D.A.s office could try Burdick on the charges here.

Staff Writer Patrick Hall may be contacted at phall@wilsonpost.com.

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