In a ruling bound to enrage victim’s rights advocates and conservative legal and political commentators, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court yesterday issued a decision restricting District and Superior Court judges’ ability to require that GPS monitoring bracelets be worn by convicted Massachusetts sex offenders, regardless of whether offenders have violated the conditions of their probation. While differing viewpoints can argue the constitutional validity of this decision, it is the underlying which gave rise to this ruling that is certain (understandably) to evoke a lot of visceral reaction about this ruling.
The facts of that case are unquestionably ugly and revolting, so let’s lay them out up front: One day twenty years ago, in 1990, a particularly loathsome individual by the name of Ralph Goodwin abducted and raped a 7 year-old boy. I said the details are revolting, and they are: Goodwin lured the young boy away from his parents while the family was attending an event at a Portuguese-American civic club in Lowell. He did this by enticing the boy in a game of hide-and-seek. According to prosecutors at his trial, Goodwin separated the boy from his parents and a friend and carried him outside the building, threatening to kill him if he called for help. He then took the boy to a secluded area underneath a nearby bridge and raped him. When Goodwin was done, he then took him to a house, where he sexually assaulted the boy again. Goodwin held the boy prisoner in the cellar of the house overnight, and raped him again the following morning, according to prosecutors. He then placed the injured and traumatized boy in a large cardboard box, deposited him on a street corner, and called a taxi to take the boy to his home.
Goodwin was convicted at trial, and then-Superior Court Judge Patti B. Saris, (who is now a federal judge,) sentenced Goodwin to two concurrent terms of 10 to 15 years in prison for two of the Massachusetts rape charges, and nine to 10 years concurrently for the kidnapping. She sentenced Goodwin 30 to 40 years for the third rape but suspended that sentence, but ordered that it be automatically imposed if he reoffended. Goodwin then spent the next 15 years as a guest of the Commonwealth in state prison. Prior to his scheduled release in 2005, he was civilly committed to Bridgewater State Hospital (basically the state prison for the insane and the sexually dangerous,) after a judicial determination that he was still sexually dangerous. In 2006, the Massachusetts Legislature passed a law to require that all convicted sex offenders wear GPS monitoring devices. Fast forward to June 2009, when Goodwin was released after a jury concluded he was no longer dangerous. He was given several conditions of probation at his release. However, wearing a GPS monitoring device that would allow authorities to track his movements, and staying away from schoolyards, was not among the listed conditions of probation, because he was convicted prior to enactment of the 2006 law requiring all convicted sex offenders to wear the devices. This is key here.