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Lifetime GPS Tracking of Sex Offenders OK’d

CHICAGO (CN) - Requiring a convicted sex offender to wear a GPS monitoring anklet 24 hours a day for life does not violate the Fourth Amendment, the Seventh Circuit ruled Friday, reversing a ruling from Wisconsin.

Michael Belleau was convicted in 1992 of sexually assaulting a boy for five years, beginning when the boy was eight. Belleau served one year in jail, and was arrested while on probation for sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl.

Belleau was sentenced to 10 years in prison for this second offense, and his parole was revoked after he admitted having sexual fantasies about grooming little girls to molest them.

He was civilly committed for five more years as a sexually violent person.

As a condition of his release in 2010, Belleau is required to wear a GPS monitoring anklet 24 hours a day for the rest of his life.

He sued the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, claiming the lifetime monitoring violates his Fourth Amendment protection from unreasonable search.

A federal judge agreed, and held Wisconsin's monitoring statute unconstitutional.

But the Seventh Circuit reversed on Friday, citing the Supreme Court's 2015 decision in Grady v. North Carolina : that constant monitoring of sex offenders may be permitted within reason.

"The focus must be on the incremental effect of the challenged statute on the plaintiff's privacy, and that effect is slight given the decision by Wisconsin to make sex offenders' criminal records and home addresses public," Judge Richard Posner wrote for the three-judge panel. (Emphasis in original.)

Given that anyone with an Internet connection can look up Belleau's name, photo, address and criminal history, "The additional loss from the fact that occasionally his trouser leg hitches up and reveals an anklet monitor that may cause someone who spots it to guess that this is a person who has committed a sex crime must be slight," Posner wrote.

The government's interest in protecting children weighs heavily against Belleau's privacy interests. Even at age 73, there is no way of guaranteeing that Belleau will not harm a child again, the court said, especially given the high recidivism rates of sex offenders.

"Pedophilia is a lifelong affliction for which there is no treatment," Posner wrote. "Coupled with the particularly devastating consequences of their conduct, these offenders pose a unique - and perhaps insurmountable - challenge for conventional law enforcement techniques."

The court found that the language of the monitoring statute is focused on protecting children, not punishing sex offenders, and rejected Belleau's comparison of the GPS anklet to branding.

"Early forms of shaming were designed to be noticeable, even prominent, while the GPS device is designed to be inconspicuous," Posner said. He added that as technology improves, the devices will become smaller and less burdensome.

He also pointed out that the anklet could exonerate Belleau if he is arrested for a sex offense he did not commit.

"Given how slight is the incremental loss of privacy from having to wear the anklet monitor, and how valuable to society (including sex offenders who have gone straight) the information collected by the monitor is, we can't agree with the district judge that the Wisconsin law violates the Fourth Amendment," the unanimous panel wrote.

Judge Joel Martin Flaum wrote a concurring opinion.

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