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Homeless Probationer’s Violation for Failure to Comply with GPS Monitoring Reversed

On December 21, 2010, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court set aside a probation violation finding where the probationer was unable to accommodate the technological requirements of GPS monitoring equipment while living in a homeless shelter. The Court found that as there was no evidence of willful noncompliance, the violation was “akin to punishing the defendant for being homeless.”

After he pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of fourteen, John W. Canadyan, Jr. was sentenced to eighteen months in prison and five years probation; the latter required him to wear a GPS monitoring device. After his release from prison, Canadyan was forced to live in a homeless shelter.

The GPS device mandated as part of his probation required access to a telephone line, an electrical outlet or both. Neither was available at the homeless shelter. Both Canadyan and the probation office tried to accommodate the requirements for the GPS device, but without a solution a notice of violation was filed. Subsequent to the violation, a device with an extended battery life was provided to Canadyan.

The Chelsea District Court found that Canadyan had violated the GPS condition of his probation without a valid excuse, because had he made better efforts to find a job he could have obtained housing. On appeal, the Supreme Judicial Court noted that laws that impose certain requirements on sex offenders had caused “an increase in homelessness among such persons.”

The Court found that Canadyan had made a good faith, diligent effort to explore other living arrangements and alternative GPS technologies, to no avail. Thus, his probation violation was not willful. Further, finding a job was not a condition of his probation and thus could not be cause for a violation. As such, the violation finding was set aside. See: Commonwealth v. Canadyan, 458 Mass. 574, 944 N.E.2d 93 (Mass. 2010).

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Related legal case

Commonwealth v. Canadyan