GPS Monitoring is a Search Protected Under 4th Amendment in MA

John L. Calcagni III
gps monitoring

Under current Massachusetts law, any person convicted of a sex offense is subject to GPS monitoring for the duration of their probation.  However, that will all change following a recent 7-0 ruling, wherein the Supreme Judicial Court [SJC] held that judges will now make the determination as to whether GPS monitoring is appropriate, based on the characteristics of the defendant and the facts of their case.  This means that GPS bracelets are no longer mandatory for all sex offenders.

M.G.L. c. 265 § 47 requires all individuals who have been convicted of non-contact sex offenses (i.e., possession or distribution of child pornography) to wear a GPS bracelet while on probation.  In Commonwealth v. Feliz, the SJC examined whether the statute could require GPS monitoring for an entire class of offenders.  Ultimately, it concluded that the “mandatory, blanket imposition of GPS monitoring on probationers, absent individualized determinations of reasonableness, is unconstitutional under the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.” 

This means that going forward, the government will no longer have the unlimited ability to impose GPS monitoring on all convicted sex offenders.  A defendant can still be ordered to wear a GPS bracelet as part of their probation, however, a judge will now need to make an individual determination as to whether the Commonwealth’s reasons for imposing GPS monitoring outweighs that individual’s privacy rights.  This can be a high burden for a prosecutor to meet.

In Feliz, the defendant was classified as a Level 1 sex offender.  He did not have a history of violating the terms of his probation or pre-trial release, he did not have a psychiatric diagnosis related to sexually deviant activity, and he had no prior record of a sex offense.  Based on these characteristics and the facts of his case, the Court held that GPS monitoring was unconstitutional, as the Commonwealth’s interests in public safety did not outweigh the intrusion on Mr. Feliz’s privacy.

According to the SJC, almost 4,000 people across the state of Massachusetts are being monitored through the GPS program.  The data these monitors yield “provide an intimate window into a person’s life, revealing not only his or her particular movements, but through them his or her familial, political, professional, religious, and sexual associations.”

The Effects of GPS Monitoring

These devices are not only physically intrusive but can also lead to economic losses or arrest—even for conduct that doesn’t violate the terms of one’s probation.  GPS bracelets store information about a defendant’s longitude and latitude once every minute, but that data is usually only reviewed once the monitoring system generates an “alert.”  Alerts can be triggered if someone attempts to damage the device, or when he or she enters a certain geographic area from which they are barred.  However, alerts often occur for minor reasons as well, such as when the battery runs low or cellular or satellite connections are lost. 

After an alert, the monitored individual must communicate with probation, since an unresolved alert may lead to an arrest warrant.  As the SJC noted, alerts are not uncommon—on a daily basis, approximately half of all individuals being monitored will experience an alert.  Resolving an alert can disrupt an individual’s daily life and have a negative impact on their employment.  Further, a probationer can be arrested merely because their GPS bracelet lost its signal or other connectivity issues outside of the person’s control. 

Contact A MA Sex Offenses Defense Lawyer Today

If you meet some of the criteria described above and have been ordered to wear a GPS monitor as part of your probation, we can represent you in court and seek to have that probation condition removed.  If you are currently facing charges for a sex offense, the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III can defend you against those charges, and any attempt by the prosecutor to make you wear a GPS bracelet.