GPS Tracking for Domestic Violence Offenders?

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.

9 thoughts on “GPS Tracking for Domestic Violence Offenders?”

  1. While not GPS, yet, it is not uncommon for electronic house arrest to be part of pretrial conditions is a nasty case. That could be GPS just as easily.

  2. Fascinating article, thanks for the comment. Interesting that the police department is administering the system — and apparently very enthusiastically. Also of note, the story indicates that the tracking devices work using a combination of satellites and cell towers. I looked at the website of the technology provider, Omnilink, and it appears that they use GPS augmented by other technologies that enable tracking indoors, where GPS can’t reach. Back to the original topic of the post, here’s an interesting tibdbit from Omnilink’s website vis-a-vis domestic violence cases:
    “Omnilink’s domestic violence solution gives law enforcement visibility into an offender or defendant’s whereabouts in relation to the location of his or her victim. The combination of a one-piece electronic monitoring device, a small device carried by the victim, and ‘Mobile Exclusion Zones’ in FocalPoint™ provides information on the proximity of an offender to a victim.”

  3. Interesting discussion. Have the judges or magistrates been exposed to this technology? It seems that suggesting to a superior court judges to include GPS in his policies on pretrial release, GS 7A-535 may encourage the use of this technolgy. Sheriffs will have an interest not only to reduce jail overcrowding but to also because someone must monitor the persons on pretrial release.

  4. A reader of the blog emailed me to say that he believes that GPS is widely used in Greenville as a pre-trial release condition in domestic violence cases. Can anyone from Pitt County confirm (or deny) this? If it’s true, how does the program work — who pays for it, who monitors it, etc.?

  5. I do not support the use of this technology except as defined by Federal law. Leaving it to individual states raises too many legal issues we already don’t have the time or resources to fight about.

    I do not support illegal law enforcement ( such as criminals or private informers ) having the free use of such devices. It should be in the hands of law enforcement ALONE, else the use of such technology by OTHER CRIMINALS ( rival gangs, serial rapists, serial killers, stalkers, clumsy pi’s etc ) is wide open for them to do. AND the use of this technology in their hands only adds further complexity to our already overburdened state budgets ( which impacts county budgets ).

    Seriously, everyone in law enforcement needs to really, reallly think about this before cheering on the use of the technology willy-nilly or lax laws that evade the rights of citizens. We are not sworn to protect the rights of lawbreakers, but our fellow citizens who are NOT breaking the law. Every wannabe cop/spy or otherwise mentally challenged person is going to make our jobs harder and bog the courts down in even more nonsense than they currently handle. I’m not a supporter, in particular, of PI’s using these things. We all know to what lengths they’ll go to earn their fees and I’ve had more than one of these knuckleheads consume my time better spent on far more serious matters of law.


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