An interesting article in the New York Times, available here, talks about the increasing use of GPS tracking in domestic violence cases, either as a condition of pretrial release or as part of a probationary sentence. The story indicates that twelve states have passed legislation designed to enable the use of GPS in such cases. As far as I know, North Carolina’s not one of them. I did a quick search of proposed legislation last night, and it doesn’t appear that we are set to jump on the bandwagon this year, either.
I wonder, though, whether specific legislation is really necessary. Under G.S. 15A-534, a judicial official may impose “restrictions on the travel, associations [and] conduct . . . of the defendant” as conditions of pretrial release. And under G.S. 15A-1343(b1)(10), a judge may impose, as a condition of probation, “any . . . conditions determined by the court to be reasonably related to [the defendant’s] rehabilitation.” Perhaps those provisions are broad enough to encompass, for example, a ban on contact with the victim, enforced by the use of GPS monitoring.
In fact, it looks like GPS monitoring is regularly imposed by federal courts as a condition of pretrial release, even though the federal pretrial release staute, 18 U.S.C. § 3142, doesn’t mention GPS. Instead, it contains general language similar to that found in G.S. 15A-534, including a provision that the court may require the defendant to “abide by specified restrictions on personal associations, place of abode, or travel,” or require the defendant to “satisfy any other condition that is reasonably necessary.”
I’d love to know if GPS has been used as a condition of release here, and if so, in what kinds of cases. I’d also be interested to know whether it’s been used as part of a sentence, outside the sex offender context. Domestic violence cases are a logical application for the technology, but not the only one: a defendant who repeatedly trespasses on a particular public housing project, for example, might be sentenced to probation with GPS monitoring to ensure that he doesn’t reoffend. Please post a comment if you know of any cases in which GPS has been used, or, of course, if you have an opinion about its use.
The idea does raise a couple of interesting issues. One, given the budget crunch facing the state and most localities, GPS could be a significant money saver, since it might allow more defendants to be released on bond or to be sentenced to probation while still preserving community safety. Apparently, the jurisdictions that use it normally pass the costs of monitoring — eight or nine dollars per day seems to be the range — on to the defendant, making it even more of a bargain. But two, do we have the institutional capacity to use GPS, either pretrial or as a condition of probation? The federal courts have pretrial services offices that apparently have the ability to administer GPS monitoring imposed as a condition of pretrial release. Who would serve that role here? And can probation do it, for convicted defendants? Others will know more about this than I do, and I encourage you to contribute to the discussion.