GPS Monitoring Devices May Be Violating Fourth Amendment Rights
One sentencing option which helps avoid jail time for defendants who have been found guilty is the use of electronic monitoring. Instead of sending a person to jail, the courts instead impose a “house arrest” whereby the defendant must abide by certain terms set by the court.
This type of sentence may enable the defendant to continue to attend school, work, counseling and alcohol or drug programs, medical appointments, and other court-approved activities.
One of the most common ways to monitor the defendant is the use of electronic ankle bracelets which have GPS tracking capability, allowing law enforcement the ability to track the defendant at all times.
However, what many defendants – and their attorneys – may not be aware of is that many of these devices also have the ability to eavesdrop and record conversations the person wearing the monitor may be having, including privileged conversations with their attorneys.
Many prison advocacy groups and civil libertarians say this eavesdropping is a clear violation of the defendant’s constitutional rights. They say that eavesdropping and recording conversations via the electronic monitoring bracelet are violations of the Fourth Amendment, the Federal Wiretap Act, and many individual state constitutions.
A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union points out that defendants have the right to privacy, as well as the right to avoid self-incrimination.
Those rights may be violated if the person wearing the monitoring bracelet has no idea that their conversations may be listened to by law enforcement or even by the private security companies which provide the bracelets.
Proponents of the bracelets balk at these violation accusations, claiming that when the phone line is opened up, there is a warning vibration and sound that is emitted which notifies the defendant and an audio alert which goes off when the phone line shuts down.
That claim was tested in a courtroom in Puerto Rico when an attorney used the bracelet his client had been wearing to communicate with the security company which monitored the bracelet.
No such vibrations or audio alerts went off either at the beginning or at the end of the conversations. Those against these bracelets also point out that the warning alerts can be bypassed by the police or the monitoring companies at any time without informing the defendant.
There are approximately 200,000 people in this country who are under electronic monitoring, which emphasizes just how widespread this issue may be.
At the very least, civil rights advocates say both the defendants and their attorneys must be notified if the monitor being used has this ability to eavesdrop.