If you were ordered by a court to wear an uncomfortable GPS monitoring device 24 hours a day for the rest of your life, then you would undoubtedly regard the order as punishment. New Jersey’s 2007 Sex Offender Monitoring Act requires this kind of GPS tracking for individuals who have been convicted of certain sex crimes and who are believed to pose a high risk of re-offending.

Recently, the New Jersey Supreme Court made an important ruling with regard to sex offenders who were convicted before the 2007 monitoring legislation was passed into law. The case involves a 76-year-old man who was convicted in 1986 of attempted sexual assault of a minor. He was released from prison in 2009 without the requirement to wear a GPS ankle bracelet.

However, roughly six months after the man’s release, the parole board sought to have him wear a monitoring device on his ankle in compliance with the 2007 law. The man appealed, saying that the GPS requirement — a form of lifetime probation — constituted a new punishment after the completion of his prison term. A principle of criminal justice in New Jersey and throughout the United States is that a punishment cannot be imposed retroactively.

In a 4-3 decision, the New Jersey Supreme Court sided with the elderly man. Justice Barry Alpin wrote that the lifetime GPS requirement is a form of probation, which is punitive and thus, in this case, “violates both the federal and state constitutional guarantees.”

A dissenting judge in the appellate court had argued that the monitoring requirement was non-punitive and regulatory. The state Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that because the lifetime GPS requirement is a penalty, it cannot be applied retroactively.

Our New Jersey criminal defense website has more on parole requirements after a sex crime conviction.

Source: NorthJersey.com, “N.J. Supreme Court: Sex offenders who served their time can’t face penalties under new laws,” Michael Phillis, Sept. 22, 2014