Many people who are convicted of sex crimes are required to register as sex offenders and submit to certain supervisory conditions as part of their sentences. Recently, the Supreme Court of New Jersey addressed the discrete issue of whether the condition that a registered sex offender submit to continuous GPS monitoring pursuant to the Sex Offender Monitoring Act violated offenders’ constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizures. If you are charged with a sex offense, it is in your best interest to speak to a dedicated New Jersey criminal defense attorney to discuss what measures you can take to safeguard your interests.

Factual and Procedural History

Reportedly, in 2007 New Jersey enacted Sex Offender Monitoring Act (SOMA), which aimed to protect the community and prevent future sex crimes by permitting increased supervision of high-risk sex offenders that were released into the community. Specifically, SOMA permitted the New Jersey State Parole Board (the Board) to track high-risk sex offenders’ locations via an ankle device with GPS technology.

Allegedly, the defendant, who was convicted of attempting to lure a minor into a vehicle in 2010, was classified as a Tier III or high-risk sex offender following his release from incarceration in 2015. Thus, he was required to submit to GPS monitoring pursuant to SOMA. The monitoring allowed the Board to monitor the defendant’s location at all times. Thus, the defendant challenged the requirement as unconstitutional, arguing that it violated his rights against unreasonable search and seizure. The trial court found, however, that the requirement constituted a special needs exception to the warrant requirement for searches. The defendant then appealed.

The Special Needs Exception to the Warrant Requirement

On appeal, the appellate court noted that the parties did not dispute whether the GPS monitoring constituted a search. They disputed, however, whether the search was lawful. The court further stated that the defendant was required to submit to GPS monitoring solely because of this designation as a Tier III offender, and not because of any warrant or individualized suspicion. Thus, GPS monitoring must fall under the special needs exception to the warrant requirement to be considered reasonable.

In New Jersey, an exception to the warrant requirement exists when special needs that are beyond the need for a typical need for law enforcement make the probable cause and warrant requirement impractical. The court explained that the special needs exception applied when a search is conducted to further an important state interest, not to investigate or prosecute criminal acts.

In conducting a special needs analysis, a court must first consider whether a special need exists and if so, must assess the privacy interests of the defendant and then weigh the competing governmental and private interests. In the subject case, the court ultimately determined that although GPS monitoring constituted an invasive search, the government had a compelling interest in conducting the search that outweighed the defendant’s diminished expectations of privacy as a registered sex offender. Thus, the court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Speak to a Seasoned Criminal Defense Attorney

If you are charged with a sex crime, you may face lifelong harm to your reputation and your rights and should speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The seasoned New Jersey criminal defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Jonathan F. Marshall are adept at helping people charged with sex crimes fight to protect their rights, and if you retain our services, we will advocate aggressively on your behalf. We can be contacted at 877-450-8301 or through the form online to set up a conference.