Commentary

Supreme Court rules GPS tracking of sex offenders may be unconstitutional

Supreme courtOn Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina’s highest court must re-examine a sex offender’s case to determine whether a law requiring him to wear a GPS tracking bracelet for life is constitutional.

Torrey Dale Grady was convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and then of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. As a repeat offender, Grady was sentenced to three years in jail. Upon his release in 2013, he was ordered to permanently wear a GPS tracker. The monitoring device allows state officials to receive information about all of Grady’s movements. In order to maintain the tracking device, state officials are permitted to enter Grady’s home unannounced. According to Grady, he must also be plugged into a wall outlet for four to six hours daily in order to keep the bracelet charged.

Grady is one of 600 sex offenders in North Carolina that currently wears such a monitoring device.

Grady immediately appealed the order requiring him to permanently wear the GPS device claiming that it violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Grady’s claims were rejected by North Carolina courts but the Supreme Court found that this tracking could be unconstitutional.

In its opinion, the Court cited its recent decision in United States v. Jones which held that:

“the Government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search.’

In light of [this] decision[], it follows that a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”

The Supreme Court expressed no doubt that the tracking was a search but did not conduct analysis regarding whether it was unreasonable. Since the Fourth Amendment only prohibits unreasonable searches, the Supreme Court is sending the case back to state court to determine whether the search was reasonable. What they decide remains to be seen.

Given that North Carolina is one of forty states to conduct some type of monitoring as a condition of probation or parole, this is likely not the last time we will hear about this issue.

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