Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sex offender can challenge lifetime GPS program under Fourth Amendment

What strikes me about the law is that the worst man on Earth may be the reason why the law changes to protect your beloved mother-in-law. We call it stare decisis, which is Latin for "the precedent applies to future cases." In this case, a sexual offender had to comply with GPS monitoring. Not so fast, the Supreme Court says.

The case is Grady v. North Carolina, decided on March 30. Grady was convicted of taking indecent liberties with a child. The trial court in his case ordered that he enroll in a monitoring program under which he would have to wear tracking devices for the rest of his life. Yet, a few years ago, the Supreme Court said in United States v. Jones 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" triggering Fourth Amendment analysis to determine if the search is reasonable.

Like him or hate him, the analysis in Jones applies to Grady. "The State's program is plainly designed to obtain information. And since it does so by physically intruding on a subject's body, it effects a Fourth Amendment search." This does not mean Grady wins the case. The lower court has to decide if the GPS program is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment. The Court writes:

That conclusion, however, does not decide the ultimate question of the program’s constitutionality. The Fourth Amendment prohibits only unreasonable searches. The reasonableness of a search depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature and purpose of the search and the extent to which the search intrudes upon reasonable privacy expectations. See, e.g., Samson v. California, 547 U. S. 843 (2006) (suspicionless search of parolee was reasonable); Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U. S. 646 (1995) (random drug testing of student athletes was reasonable). The North Carolina courts did not examine whether the State’s monitoring program is reasonable—when properly viewed as a search—and we will not do so in the first instance.

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