A Fairfax County Circuit Court judge, in a July 18, 2016 verdict, found a Defendant guilty of a Class-3 misdemeanor for placing a GPS tracking device on the car of his ex-girlfriend, who is the mother of his child. The parents were never married and, at the time, were involved in a contentious custody dispute.
In his defense, the Defendant/father explained that he installed the GPS tracker on the mother’s car because he was concerned that she might leave the area with the child to return to her native Uzbekistan. The Defendant/Father attempted to invoke Virginia’s “safe harbor” statute that provides some leeway for parents wanting to keep track of their child’s whereabouts or the whereabouts of their child’s authorized caretaker when the child is in their care. The judge, in his reaching his guilty verdict, cited a distinction between the father placing the GPS tracker on the child’s backpack or bicycle and the mother’s personal vehicle. The judge further cited the distinction between the mother and an authorized caretaker.
While there are many exceptions to Virginia’s tracking statute, the facts that: 1) the mother was not a caretaker and, 2) owned the vehicle, seem to have been the father’s undoing. If the parties had been married, and the vehicle was a marital vehicle, the judge’s decision very well may have been different.
Despite the uncertainty and anxiety that undoubtedly comes with the territory, while engaged in custody matters it is best to consult with an attorney prior to taking it upon yourself to collect evidence. Many concerned parents have found themselves on the wrong side of the law in their attempts to build their case.
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