U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

A Lifetime of GPS Monitoring for Sex Offenders Is Constitutional

A Wisconsin law requires convicted sex offenders who have been released from civil commitment to wear a GPS ankle bracelet all day, every day, for the rest of their lives. And that is not an unconstitutional violation of their privacy, the Seventh Circuit ruled recently.

The ankle monitor sends daily reports of the offender's movements to the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, who can then use the information to connect offenders to reported sexual assaults.

From Committed to Monitored

Michael Belleau sued after he was forced to wear such an ankle bracelet. Belleau had been convicted twice of sexually assaulting children. In the first case, he "oddly," the court notes, "was given only a year in jail and probation." In the second, he served six years of a ten year sentence before being released.

A year later, though, his parole was revoked when he admitted to "grooming" two children for sexual activities. He was declared a "sexually violent person" and committed in 2005. In 2010, he was released, after a psychologist found he was "no longer more likely than not" to commit sexual assaults.

Belleau was not on bail, parole, probation, or supervised release, but under Wisconsin law, he was required to wear a GPS monitor for the rest of his life. The only way to avoid the monitor would be to leave the state.

Not a Harmless Old Guy

At court, Belleau claimed that, when the ankle bracelet is exposed, "his privacy is invaded, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, because the viewers assume that he is a criminal and decide to shun him." Since he was free and not subject to any bail, probation, or other conditions, Belleau argued that there was "no lawful basis" for the ankle bracelet requirement.

The court, in an opinion by Judge Richard Posner, disagreed. Belleau's argument "misses two points," Judge Posner wrote. The first is the nature of his crimes -- sexual molestation of young children. Belleau's pedophilia is a compulsive predisposition. And despite being 72, there is still a significant risk that he will reoffend. When he was released from civil commitment, Posner noted, his psychologist said that there was an 8 percent chance of him reoffending, which the court treated as a lowball estimate. "The plaintiff can't be thought just a harmless old guy," Posner wrote.

"In short, the plaintiff cannot be certified as harmless merely because he no longer is under any of the more familiar kinds of post-imprisonment restriction," the court reasoned.

Secondly, the ankle bracelet is only a minor infringement on Belleau's privacy, the court found. Indeed, public registries are much more so a violation of privacy than the monitoring bracelet, yet Belleau has not challenged them.

In fact, those registries might have informed the decision of some of the judges on the Seventh Circuit, as well. In an interesting aside, Posner notes that, "One of the members of this appellate panel, out of curiosity stimulated by another sex offender privacy case, visited Family Watchdog," an online sex offender locator, "a learned that there were several (one hopes reformed -- but it is only a hope) sex offenders living on his street."

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