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Supreme Court Reinstates Challenge to North Carolina Post-Release GPS Sex Offender Monitoring

Supreme Court Reinstates Challenge to North Carolina Post-Release GPS Sex Offender Monitoring

by Derek Gilna

In a March 30, 2015 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a North Carolina law that requires certain sex offenders to wear a satellite-tracking device following their release from prison. Torrey Dale Grady had been convicted of a second-degree sex offense in 1997 and taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006. He objected to wearing the tracking device, arguing it was a violation of his “Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.”

Grady’s objection was based on the Supreme Court’s ruling in United States v. Jones, 132 S.Ct. 945 (2012), which held “police officers had engaged in a ‘search’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when they installed and monitored a Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device on a suspect’s car.” Grady contended that requiring him to wear a GPS monitor was essentially a search of his person but the North Carolina courts disagreed, saying the facts were distinguishable from those in Jones.

The Supreme Court noted that Grady’s fact situation resembled that of Florida v. Jardines, 133 S.Ct. 1409 (2013) – where the Court held that having a drug-sniffing police dog sniff around a house constituted a search – and rejected the North Carolina courts’ reasoning that the GPS monitoring program was civil in nature and thus not subject to the Fourth Amendment. The Supreme Court had previously held “It is well-settled that the Fourth Amendment’s protection extends beyond the sphere of criminal investigations.”

“The State’s [GPS monitoring] program,” the Court noted, “is plainly designed to obtain information. And since it does so by physically intruding on a subject’s body, it effects a Fourth Amendment search.” However, the Court added that that finding “does not decide the ultimate question of the program’s constitutionality. The Fourth Amendment prohibits only unreasonable searches.... The North Carolina courts did not examine whether the State’s monitoring program is reasonable – when properly viewed as a search – and we will not do so in the first instance.”

Accordingly, the judgment of the North Carolina Supreme Court was reversed and the case remanded to determine whether the GPS monitoring program constitutes a reasonable search. See: Grady v. North Carolina, 135 S.Ct. 1368 (2015).


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Related legal case

Grady v. North Carolina