Should Wisconsin sex offenders be tracked for life by GPS?

Courts must often weigh the personal rights of those convicted of a crime against a greater public interest, and laws can not infringe on the rights of individuals any more than is necessary.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently considered whether a Wisconsin law that allowed continual GPS monitoring of sex offenders is unconstitutional. The eight plaintiffs are sex offenders who claim that the monitoring is an “intrusive search” that violates their constitutional rights.

Unreasonable search

The case before the Seventh Circuit concerns the Wisconsin Attorney General’s implementation of a law that allows lifetime GPS monitoring of released sex offenders. In 2017, the Attorney General expanded the interpretation of the legislation to include any individual convicted of more than one count of a sex offense.

This means that convicted offenders who have already completed their sentences now must wear a GPS ankle bracelet for the rest of their lives despite no previous expectations that they would need to.

According to the plaintiffs, this lifetime monitoring is particularly intrusive and constitutes an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment.

GPS monitoring and recidivism

The state argued that the risk posed by repeat sexual offenders was great enough to warrant the monitoring but, when pressed, was unable to provide data proving that GPS monitoring decreases recidivism rates.

The lack of evidence highlights the potential of legislation to overstep and place unreasonable restrictions on individuals when the law may not even accomplish its purported purpose. Without data to back up the state’s claims, the law may be unconstitutional.