Massachusetts courts often require individuals on probation, particularly sex offenders, to wear GPS monitors that track their every movement. Imposing this requirement, the state’s highest court said for the first time recently, is a search, meaning that a judge can only lawfully require such monitoring after making an individualized determination that balances “the Commonwealth’s need to impose monitoring against the privacy invasion occasioned by such monitoring.”
The two decisions issued by the Supreme Judicial Court (SJC), Commonwealth v. Feliz and Commonwealth v. Johnson, are the first to apply Grady v. North Carolina, a 2015 Supreme Court decision holding that GPS monitoring is in fact a search protected under the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against “unreasonable” searches. While the SJC had previously treated GPS monitoring as something else, calling it, for instance, “punishment” for committing an offense, Feliz and Johnson clarify that under both federal and state constitutional law, GPS monitoring is in fact a search. Applying its own new standard, the SJC reached contrasting results, deciding that GPS monitoring was unreasonable in Feliz but reasonable in Johnson.