Felon’s lifetime GPS monitoring upheld by US federal appeals court

A federal appeals court is upholding lifetime GPS monitoring of a convicted felon, in this instance a Wisconsin pedophile who served time for sexually assaulting a boy and a girl. The court upheld the constitutionality of a Wisconsin law that, beginning in 2008, requires convicted pedophiles to wear GPS ankle devices for the rest of their lives.

A federal judge had sided with the offender, Michael Belleau, now 72. Wisconsin appealed to the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled (PDF) in the state's favor Friday and derided the lower court's ruling as "absurd." Among other things, Belleau said the GPS device violated his privacy because he had served his time and was not on post-prison supervision. The three-judge appeals court did not agree, saying:

When the ankleted person is wearing trousers the anklet is visible only if he sits down and his trousers hike up several inches and as a result no longer cover it. The plaintiff complains that when this happens in the presence of other people and they spot the anklet, his privacy is invaded, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, because the viewers assume that he is a criminal and decide to shun him. Of course the Fourth Amendment does not mention privacy or create any right of privacy. It requires that searches be reasonable but does not require a warrant or other formality designed to balance investigative need against a desire for privacy; the only reference to warrants is a prohibition of general warrants.

The court's reasoning, however, could apply to other criminals who have a propensity to reoffend. The court said that the burden on privacy "must in any event be balanced against the gain to society from requiring that the anklet monitor be worn. It is because of the need for such balancing that persons convicted of crimes, especially very serious crimes such as sexual offenses against minors, and especially very serious crimes that have high rates of recidivism such as sex crimes, have a diminished reasonable constitutionally protected expectation of privacy."

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