Regulatory Reform

Grady v. North Carolina – Satellite Based Monitoring Programs Are Searches

A decision announced by the Supreme Court earlier this term may force states to re-evaluate their Satellite Based Monitoring (SBM) programs for repeat criminal offenders. Last week, the Court determined North Carolina’s SBM program was a search of a convicted felon, meaning the program must be analyzed according to the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens in their “persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures.”

The Supreme Court did not determine SBM programs are overall unconstitutional. It left that decision to state courts. Instead, The Supreme Court held the programs are searches, defining the proper perimeters for state courts to analyze the programs’ constitutionality.

The defendant in the case, Grady v. North Carolina, is a repeat sex offender. After serving his prison sentence, a court in North Carolina ordered him to participate in the SBM program for the rest of his life. He challenged the lifetime SBM program enrollment, claiming it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches.

Courts in North Carolina disagreed with Mr. Grady, exempting the SBM program from Fourth Amendment protections. The state courts believed mandatory participation in the program was civil, rather than criminal, in nature. By exempting the SBM program from Fourth Amendment protections, the state courts refused to apply previous Supreme Court decisions.

According to the Supreme Court though, a government cannot exempt a program from the Fourth Amendment by arguing the nature of the proceeding.

It is well settled…that the Fourth Amendment’s protection extends beyond the sphere of criminal investigations…and the government’s purpose in collecting information does not control whether the method of collection constitutes a search.

In the decision, the Supreme Court specifically applied two recent cases: United States v. Jones and Florida v. Jardines. Both of these cases emphasize that the Fourth Amendment protects private property—cars and homes—from unwarranted and unreasonable searches.

In Jones, the police placed a GPS tracking device on a vehicle, outside the scope of a warrant, to track the vehicle’s movement. The officers eventually used the information obtained to arrest and convict the defendant. The Supreme Court decided the practice of gathering information from a device placed on the defendant’s private property violated the Fourth Amendment, and overturned the conviction.

Similarly, in Jardines, the police guided a drug dog onto a suspected dealer’s porch. After the dog indicated the presence of drugs, the police obtained a warrant, searched the house and arrested the defendant. The Supreme Court overturned the conviction, reminding the police that the defendant’s home was protected by the Fourth Amendment.

This past week’s decision extended the reasoning in these two cases to an individual. In reversing the North Carolina Court, the Supreme Court stated, “A state…conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.”

Grady confirms several Supreme Court holdings. First, courts should not distinguish between civil and criminal proceedings when asking the question of whether the Fourth Amendment applies. Second, when determining whether a search occurred, a court should ask whether the police must intrude on an individual, an individual’s property, or an individual’s home. Third, and finally, when determining whether a search occurred, a court should ask the police the purpose for which it intruded upon the individual or the individual’s property.

This decision does not signal the end of Satellite Based Monitoring programs. Instead, it signals the courts will analyze them according to the Fourth Amendment. Under the Fourth Amendment, SBM programs should be constitutional so long as the monitoring sentence is reasonable as applied to a specific offender.

In Depth: Regulatory Reform

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