WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a North Carolina sex offender should have another chance to challenge an order that he wear a GPS monitoring bracelet around the clock and for the rest of his life.
The justices said the state’s highest court must reconsider whether North Carolina violated Torrey Dale Grady’s constitutional rights when it ordered him to wear the ankle bracelet beginning in 2013.
North Carolina is among at least eight states that have a system for lifetime monitoring for convicted sex offenders. More than 40 states impose some kind of monitoring as a condition of probation or release from prison.
Grady was convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and then again of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. The second conviction qualified Grady as a repeat offender. After serving nearly three years in prison, Grady was ordered to start wearing the GPS bracelet 24 hours a day in 2013 so officials could keep track of his movements.
Grady argued that the state’s lifetime GPS monitoring system is unreasonable because it allows state officials to enter his home — with or without his permission — to maintain a GPS monitoring base station. Grady also complains that he must charge the bracelet every day by plugging it into a wall outlet for four to six hours at a time.
State courts rejected his claims, but the Supreme Court said the monitoring qualifies as a search under the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures and likened it to its last case on GPS devices three years ago.
“The state’s program is plainly designed to obtain information,” the court said in an unsigned opinion. “And since it does so by physically intruding on a subject’s body, it effects a Fourth Amendment search.”
Cars vs. people
In 2012, the court ruled that placing the tracking units on cars to follow their movement is a search. That case did not decide whether attaching the devices without a search warrant violated the Constitution. On Monday, the justices said in their unsigned opinion that the state court should weigh whether North Carolina’s tracking of sex offenders is reasonable.
State officials argued that Grady’s complaints are based on outdated descriptions of the monitoring program. They said he presented no evidence of the interruptions to his daily life, how often officials must visit his home or what use North Carolina makes of the information it collects from the ankle bracelet.
The case is Grady v. North Carolina, 14-593.