NC High Court Ends Lifetime GPS Monitoring of Repeat Sex Offenders

‘Although privacy is a value of constitutional magnitude, it must yield, on occasion, to the state’s substantial interest to protect the public…’

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(Dan Way, Liberty Headlines) The North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled repeat sex-offenders should not be subject to lifetime ankle-bracelet monitoring simply because they have been convicted of multiple sex crimes.

In a 4-2 ruling written by Justice Anita Earls, and handed down Friday, the court said a mandatory, continuous, nonconsensual search by lifetime satellite-based monitoring violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Torrey Grady pleaded guilty in 2006 to illegal liberties with a child, with aggravating felony circumstances of impregnating her. He was 26. She was 15. He had prior sex-related crimes, and had failed to register as a sex offender.

Grady took his case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which raised privacy concerns over lifetime-tracking laws in 2015. But it said those should be handled at the state level.

New Hanover County Superior Court Judge Phyllis Gorham ordered Grady to be placed on lifetime monitoring in 2016.

The state Court of Appeals reversed Gorham’s ruling on a split decision. The Supreme Court not only upheld the reversal, but expanded the ruling to cover all North Carolina recidivists, not just Grady.

The justices said Grady had served his punishment, his constitutional rights had been restored, and the lifetime surveillance was a police state overreach.

Nearly 500 people are classified as sex crime recidivists in North Carolina. It is not immediately clear how many of them will be affected by this decision.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who represented the state in the case, did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

“The sex offender registration program is a critical program for the public safety of North Carolina,” Eddie Caldwell, executive vice president and general counsel of the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association, told Liberty Headlines. “After we have an opportunity to review the Supreme Court’s decision, we will ensure that the sheriffs of North Carolina receive any needed guidance.”

Justice Paul Newby, the lone Republican on the North Carolina Supreme Court, dissented. Justice Mike Morgan joined in the dissent.

“Although privacy is a value of constitutional magnitude, it must yield, on occasion, to the state’s substantial interest to protect the public through reasonable regulations in appropriate circumstances. This case presents one of those circumstances,” Newby wrote.

Satellite searches of high-risk, recidivist offenders is a reasonable activity under the Fourth Amendment, and the state statute is constitutional, Newby wrote.

The North Carolina legislature created a Sex Offender and Public Protection Registry that has been in place since January 1996. It requires sex offenders to register for myriad convictions, from peeping to violent sexual assault.

The Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice of the state Department of Public Safety oversees the satellite-based monitoring system.

Among those subject to the satellite monitoring are aggravated offenders, recidivists, sexually violent predators, those who committed an offense involving the physical, mental or sexual abuse of a minor, and those who rank highest on a risk-assessment program.

Newby argued in his dissent that the majority failed to explain what was unconstitutional about the lifetime-tracking program for recidivists.

He warned that the decision could lead to eliminating satellite-based monitoring for sexually violent predators, aggravated offenders and adults who otherwise sexually victimize children under 13 years old.