Massachusetts Court Rules that GPS Monitoring Device on Parolee is Unconstitutional, Citing Privacy Concerns

In a recent opinion coming out of an appellate court in Massachusetts, the court ruled that attaching a GPS monitoring device to a criminal defendant, even during that defendant’s probation, is inherently unconstitutional. In this case, the Commonwealth argued that it needed to attach a GPS to a defendant that had been convicted of rape, citing public safety reasons in its argument. The court rejected this reasoning and decided the GPS device was too invasive of the defendant’s right to privacy to be constitutionally sound.

Facts of the Case

According to the opinion, the defendant and the victim in this case had been friends for several years. One night, the victim needed a place to stay and ended up sleeping on the defendant’s floor. When she awoke, the defendant informed her that he had raped her while she slept.

The victim reported the rape, and the defendant was charged. He at first claimed that the sexual intercourse was consensual, but he later went to trial and was found guilty of rape. After four years in prison, the defendant remained on parole, and this case revolved around the specific conditions of his parole.

The Decision

Before this court was the question of whether or not the Commonwealth could reasonably attach a GPS monitoring device to the defendant as a condition of his parole. According to the Commonwealth, it was necessary for public safety reasons to always be aware of the defendant’s location. Attaching a GPS monitoring device, they argued, would also deter the defendant from committing any additional crimes. If the defendant knew he was being monitored, he would be more likely to obey the terms of his parole.

The court considered the Commonwealth’s need to protect the public and deter crime. It also, however, thought about the defendant’s individual right to privacy. According to the court, the GPS monitoring device would be unnecessarily violative of the defendant’s right to move around without government intrusion. The court was not convinced that the Commonwealth’s use of the device would actually allow them to stop the defendant if he was about to commit a crime. Even if the device were effective in this way, however, the right to privacy would take precedence. The court had a duty, it said, to uphold this important right, and it would take seriously its obligation to protect individuals’ right to privacy.

In this light, the court decided the GPS device could not a part of the defendant’s parole conditions. The Commonwealth’s argument was denied and the court ordered the trial court to modify the defendant’s probation terms accordingly.

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