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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

An Overview of Problems Raised By GPS Supervision Laws

by: Brandon Saunders, Associate Editor

There are a number of concerns raised by the flurry of new laws aimed at toughening the community sanctions for persons convicted of sexually-based offenses. Many of these laws are patterned and named after Florida’s 2005 Jessica Lunsford Act (Jessica’s Law), which bears the name of the young girl raped and murdered that same year.

California’s version of the law, the Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act (SPPCA)1, was passed by ballot last year and has already encountered a number of challenges. Receiving much of the attention recently are the residency restrictions imposed on paroled sex offenders.2  Somewhat lost in the debate, though, has been the question of the increasingly mandatory GPS supervision of sex offenders. Leaving aside the logistical problems3 and the questionable effectiveness of the technology4, there are also the legal issues raised by the tracking, which is required for the lifetimes of a growing segment of such offenders.

A District Court held in February of this year that California’s SPPCA did not apply to those offenders released prior to the law’s passage.5  The ruling, based on the lack of demonstrated legislative or voter intent, stops short of asserting that such sanctions cannot apply retroactively, and the decision seems to invite future legislation that would facially (or through “very clear” voter intent) widen its scope.

The same law is also creating problems for California state agencies faced with the voters’ mandate but uncertain how to implement the new restrictions, or even who exactly is responsible for the implementations.6

These and other uncertainties in this wave of legislation are indicative of a public policy that finds axiomatic the notion that the cure to social ills is only the next generation of technology away. And the push to implement law at the pace of these developments in technology is creating at least as many problems as it’s addressing.

While the best solution to the problem of sex offender recidivism will almost certainly involve some of the capabilities of community tracking for some sexually violent offenders, our efforts until now have been far more politically appealing than effective. The push to apply this technology needs to be tempered by a thorough look at not only the extent of the problem, but the limits of the technology.






1  The Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act: Jessica’s Law, http://www.83yes.com/language (last visited October 20, 2007).
2  Andy Furillo, Moving In on Sex Offenders, SACRAMENTO BEE, October 12, 2007, at A4, available at http://www.sacbee.com/111/story/428345.html (last visited October 20, 2007).
3  Sentencing Law and Policy, http://sentencing.typepad.com/sentencing_law_and_policy/(April 14, 2007, 13:30 EST).
4  Randy Dotinga, Attack of the Perv Trackers, WIRED, http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2006/11/72094 (last visited October 20, 2007).
5  Doe v Schwarzenegger, No. 06-6968 (D.N.D.Ca. Feb 22, 2007), http://prop83.org/Order%20of%20Dismissal.pdf.
6  Michael Rothfield, Some Sex Offenders Go Untracked, L.A. TIMES, October 19, 2007, available at http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-offenders19oct19,0,6116786.story, (last visited October 20, 2007).

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

California is applying this law to everyone who was released after the passage rather than those who were sentenced after its passage. This law will be challenged by parolees when they come off parole who were sentenced prior to its passage as being ex-post facto. You cannot apply new laws to someone who was sentenced before their passage. Hopefully CA has judges that have the guts of the Kentucky judge who ruled that residency restrictions are unconstituional in these cases.

October 24, 2007 at 10:30 AM  
Blogger Kurt Hunt said...

The NY Times just published an article on a topic related to this post. "Technology, the Stealthy Tattletale."

The article discusses the use of GPS for policing purposes (such as tracking bank robbers), and private safety (such as parents tracking their teenagers' driving habits). No discussion of its use for tracking sex offenders, but it's definitely an interesting read.

October 28, 2007 at 11:14 PM  

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