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Sex crime punishment and Fourth Amendment rights

A United States Supreme Court ruling may have opened the door for a unique constitutional challenge. At issue is the lifetime tracking of a repeat sex offender. The question that is being explored is whether or not this constitutes a search. The Fourth Amendment provides a protection against unreasonable search and seizures. If the lifetime tracking is considered a search that falls within the parameters of the Fourth Amendment, a defendant must prove that the search is unreasonable.

 A per curium decision by the U.S. Supreme Court has answered that the attachment of the tracking device is, in fact a search. The decision was based on two recent Supreme Court cases regarding searches under the Fourth Amendment. The first is the United States v. Jones, where the court held that the installation of a GPS device on a car is a constitutional search. The other case is Florida v. Jardines, where the court held that if the police use a drug-sniffing dog on a suspect’s porch, this can also be classified as a constitutional search. The Supreme Court cited these two cases when it declared that a state conducts a search when it places a tracking device on an individual’s body without their consent -- particularly when the device is designed to track that person.

In light of these cases, one man's case has been remanded, or sent back, to the state court for a decision on the Fourth amendment issues – mainly whether the search is then unreasonable. The prosecution in this case had argued that the use of the GPS is a civil penalty and does not fall within the scope of the Fourth Amendment.

However, the court's ruling could have legal ramifications that affect the interpretation of the Fourth Amendment in every state, including Oklahoma. It is the job of a defense attorney to ensure that the constitutional rights of a defendant are protected regardless of the nature of the sexual assault charge or other criminal charges.

Source: ABA Journal, “Scotus: Lifetime GPS monitoring of sex offender constitutes a Fourth Amendment Search; case remanded,” Debra Cassens Weiss, March 30, 2015

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