The Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) handed down a very interesting ruling recently, that will widely impact how suspects who are accused of sex crimes can be monitored when they are on release pending trial. The court recently ruled that suspected sex offenders cannot be ordered by a judge to wear a GPS tracking bracelet while they are awaiting trial. The ruling is important because previously, the Commonwealth could file and argue a motion before a judge at a defendant’s arraignbment, requesting that a suspect released before trial be ordered to wear a GPS tracking bracelet, so that police and authorities could monitor his/her whereabouts prior to trial. A law passed in 2006 specifically allowed this motion, and it has been used in many pre-trial cases involving sex crimes since then. However, the SJC recently ruled that the law was intended by the Massachusetts Legislature to apply only to convicts who have been placed on probation after being convicted of certain sex crimes, not to those who are merely suspects. The GPS law was challenged by a man who had been placed on pretrial probation by a New Bedford District Court judge after he was charged with indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 as well as disseminating obscene matter to a minor.
A lot of people, especially advocates for victims of sex crimes, are understandably upset by this ruling. It is not uncommon for someone accused of a sex crime to be released on pre-trial probation, and without any means to monitor such a suspect, he or she is effectively released back into the community, where they may possibly re-offend. On the other hand, a person can be innocent of a crime they are accused of. Not everyone charged with a crime is guilty of that crime; people are often accused unjustly. In such a situation, it can be humiliating and onerous to be forced to wear a GPS tracking bracelet, 24/7. It is effectively a “Scarlet Letter”. This can be a tough issue. I’d like to know what my readers think about this issue. Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know your thoughts.