How much would a GPS monitoring device interfere with your life? We hear about GPS devices all the time in the news and on television shows. They are everywhere in today’s world. Chances are that if you have a Smartphone in your pocket, you have a GPS device on you right now. For most people, when we are in control of a GPS, there is not a problem. But what would happen if a court ordered you to wear a GPS device? Would that interfere with your privacy?
A GPS monitoring device can be part of pre-trial release agreements or your conditions of probation. Currently, almost 4,000 people in the state have to wear devices. In the case we are about to talk about called Commonwealth v. Feliz (2019) the Supreme Court in Massachusetts tried to answer the question of whether or not a court ordering you to wear a GPS monitoring device goes against your constitutional rights.
Under both the constitutions of the United States and Massachusetts you have right to be protected from unreasonable searches. An unreasonable search is a search that goes beyond the government’s lawful authority and violates your privacy.
The Massachusetts court that decided to consider this case took inspiration from an earlier US Supreme Court case called Grady v. North Carolina (2015). In that case the court determined that GPS monitoring counts as a search and is not always reasonable.
Moreover, in the case we are about to talk about Massachusetts had to decide if it agreed or disagreed with the US Supreme Court on if a GPS monitoring device is a reasonable search.
In this case the defendant pled guilty to possessing and distributing child pornography. He was sentenced to five, 5-year terms of probation and two, 1.5-year jail terms. Because he was now a convicted sex offender, Massachusetts’s law said that he needed to wear a GPS monitoring device as a condition of probation. The defendant challenged this requirement by arguing that ordering him to wear the device violated his constitutional right against unreasonable searches.
The court began its analysis by looking at how a GPS monitoring device works. Devices are usually one-piece or two-piece electronic objects worn around the ankle. Probation uses software called the electronic monitoring program (ELMO) to supervise people wearing the devices across the state. ELMO monitors work with probation service employees to keep track of devices.
A GPS device stores information about a person’s latitude and longitude, or where they are on the planet. It does this by pinging your location using satellites in space. The devices will only be timed right if there is connection with the satellites and also cellular service.
Probation is able to put exclusion zones into the ELMO system. Anytime the person wearing the device enters one of these zones the ELMO employees and probation get notified. If too much time passes and the alert cannot be explained or cleared the device wearer will be arrested.
The devices have not been perfect. Frequent problems have included:
In order to lawfully order a GPS monitoring device, the government must prove that the device is reasonable. A reasonable device is a device that is actually effective in protecting the public and rehabilitates the person wearing it. In other words, ordering a person to wear a GPS monitoring device cannot be random. It must serve some legitimate purpose.
Moreover, not all reasonable searches require a warrant or probable cause. The government also has an strong interest in protecting the public from sexual predators and rehabilitating sex offenders. A person who is convicted of a sex offense does not have the same expectation of privacy as a person who is not.
However, this does not mean that a search that is invasive is okay. In fact, the final decision of the court was that a law requiring a GPS monitoring device on all probationers is not reasonable. It is unconstitutional.
Further, the court had two major reasons for their decision:
The court explained the privacy intrusion part by saying that a GPS monitoring device is both a physical and personal intrusion into the life of the person wearing it. All the problems with the device like loosing connection and false alerts means that the person wearing the device needs to go out of their way to solve technical problems that they are not expected to resolve.
In the case of the defendant, although he was convicted he did not have a history of psychological problems and was classified as a low risk level one sex offender. The court said that these factors needed to be taken into account as well.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE A QUESTION ABOUT A GPS MONITORING DEVICE, AND YOU NEED AN EXPERIENCED CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER WORKING ON YOUR SIDE TO PROTECT YOUR RIGHTS, PLEASE CONTACT CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY WILLIAM J. BARABINO.
CALL 781-393-5900 TO LEARN MORE ABOUT YOUR AVAILABLE DEFENSES.