U.S. Supreme Court puts some limitations on monitoring of sex offenders

Putting an ankle bracelet on a convicted sex offender for life constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.

Electronic monitoring is a staple of many probation and release programs. Ankle bracelets to monitor movements, breath test devices to check for alcohol, and online registration for sex offenders are all conditions by which the court can monitor people before trial or upon release from incarceration.

But how far can police and the courts go when tracking offenders?

For those accused of a sex crime, the issue is of the utmost importance. Sex offenses carry with them lifetime consequences over and above time served. One of those consequences is registration as a sex offender, as well as restrictions on movement, housing and employment.

Continuous electronic monitoring has Fourth Amendment protections

Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court issued some limitations on the ability of law enforcement and the courts to track people convicted of crimes who have already served their time. The case arose when a convicted sex offender filed a lawsuit against North Carolina claiming the ankle bracelet the state forced him to wear for life violated the U.S. Constitution.

The Supreme Court did not find that the mandatory ankle bracelet monitoring was unconstitutional. However, following on its decision in United States v. Jones, which held that attaching a GPS device on a suspect’ vehicle constituted a search under Fourth Amendment, the Justices found that similarly, “a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking” that person. As such, the state needed to show that placing such a device is not an unreasonable search under the fourth Amendment.

The North Carolina Court of Appeals had previously held that since the monitoring program is technically a civil monitoring program, the U.S. Supreme Court’s reasoning in Jones did not apply. The U.S. Supreme Court held that it did apply, and sent the case back to North Carolina to decide the case under the standard set forth in Jones.

Fourth Amendment protections

The number of ways in which the state can monitor and search suspects is staggering. For anyone accused or convicted of a crime, probation and parole can mean living and working around severe restriction placed by the state.

Still, constitutional protections exist. If police obtain evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure, that evidence cannot be used in court.

At Ruskin Law Offices, our team understands the importance of constitutional protections and fight vigorously to defend those rights in court. Whether you are charged with a sex crime, are currently on probation, or otherwise find yourself in America’s criminal justice system, it is important that you know your rights. Contact our office to discuss your situation and legal options.

Keywords: Sex crimes, sex registration, parole, probation, search and seizure, constitutional protections.

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Neil S. Ruskin
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