The Georgia Supreme Court recently issued a unanimous ruling that a law that required lifetime GPS monitoring of certain convicted sex offenders is unconstitutional. The high court ruled that the law violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures by the government.
The ruling applies to sex offenders who are labeled dangerous but who have served their entire sentences. Those still on probation or parole have a diminished expectation of privacy and can be electronically monitored. However, requiring someone to limit their activities and be on call for law enforcement 24/7 goes too far, the court said.
GPS monitoring “constitutes a significant intrusion upon the privacy of the individual being monitored,” wrote Chief Justice Harold Melton for the court, calling that intrusion “patently unreasonable.’
Georgia’s law unusual, may have been ineffective anyway
According to one criminology and justice professor interviewed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, more than 30 states have laws requiring GPS monitoring of convicted sex offenders, but Georgia’s was unusual in that it required the monitoring for life.
Another professor who studies electronic monitoring of sex offenders said it’s not entirely clear that GPS monitoring is an effective way to prevent people from re-offending. “The rates of those re-offending are similar if they’re on GPS tracking or not,” he told the AJC.
This case involved a man who was convicted of child molestation and sexual exploitation of a minor in 2003 and sentenced to 12 years in prison. Upon his release, the Sex Offender Registration Review Board assessed the risk that he would re-offend and determined he was in the highest risk category, “sexually dangerous predator.”
That does not make the man especially unusual. According to the AJC, the review board classifies about 9 percent of Georgia sex offenders in that category — approximately 983 people.
He was ordered to accept GPS monitoring for life, but he can now remove the monitor.
“We believed that even if this statute was passed with the best of intentions by the legislature, it was a gross intrusion on the rights of a man who had already admitted his responsibility for a crime and served out his sentence without incident,” said the man’s lawyer. “We very much appreciate the Supreme Court’s ability to separate itself from the emotions of the issue and render a judgment which merely applied the Constitution to the statute.”
Justice Keith Blackwell issued a concurring opinion in addition to voting for the unanimous verdict. In that concurrence, he noted that the legislature is free to authorize lifetime sentences for sex offenders but not to place a lifetime’s burden on people who have served out their sentences.