(CN) - The Supreme Court has given a North Carolina sex offender another chance to prove in state court that being forced to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet for the rest of his life is unconstitutional.
In a summary reversal Monday, the court allowed a challenge brought by Torrey Dale Grady, who was convicted of a second-degree sexual offense from 1996, and of taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006.
After serving his sentence for the latter crime, Grady was ordered to appear in the New Hanover County Superior Court in coastal North Carolina, for a hearing to determine whether he should be subjected to satellite-based monitoring as a recidivist sex offender.
Grady did not dispute the court's characterization of him as a recidivist, but argued that forcing him to wear a GPS ankle bracelet 24 hours a day would violate his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
The trial court was unmoved by this argument, and ordered Grady to enroll in the program and be monitored for the rest of his life.
Grady next turned to the North Carolina Court of Appeals, but once again failed to sway the court, which had previously upheld the constitutionality of the state's GPS monitoring program. The North Carolina Supreme Court later rejected Grady's petition for discretionary review.
He then petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari. In that petition, Grady complained the because the bracelet must be charged daily, he is required to be plugged into a wall outlet at least once a day for four to six hours at a time.
Grady contends the extreme nature of the monitoring constitutes an unconstitutional search under the 4th Amendment. The high court agreed and sent the case back to the lower court for a new hearing in an unsigned opinion.
In doing so, the justices noted that they had held, in United States v. Jones, that the installation of a GPS device on the vehicle of a suspect, and then monitoring that vehicle's movements, constituted a 4th Amendment search. The Supreme Court reaffirmed that principle in Florida v. Jardines, where it held that having a drug-sniffing dog "nose around" a suspect's front porch was a search, "because police had 'gathered ... information by physically entering and occupying the [curtilage of the house] to engage in conduct not explicitly or implicitly permitted by the homeowner."
"In light of these decisions, it follows that a State also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person's body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual's movements," the justices said.
"In concluding otherwise, the North Carolina Court of Appeals apparently placed decisive weight on the fact that the States monitoring program is civil in nature," they continued. "'It is well settled,' however, '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 constitute a search."
The justices said "[t]he State's program 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.
"That conclusion, however, 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," the justices said. (emphasis in the original.)
"The petition for certiorari is granted, the judgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion," they wrote.
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