The United States Supreme Court decided Grady v. North Carolina on March 30, 2015. After completing his prison term for sex offenses, the State determined that Grady was a recidivist sex offender, and wanted to place him on satellite-based monitoring. Grady argued that the monitoring program, which required him to wear a monitoring device at all times, violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Grady’s argument was based on U.S. v. Jones, where the Supreme Court held that installing a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car was a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The State courts rejected Grady’s argument, finding that the monitoring program at issues was not a Fourth Amendment search. This conclusion was based, apparently in large part, upon the view that the proceeding giving rise to the monitoring was civil in nature, whereas Jones was a criminal case, which entailed different (higher) legal standards.
The Supreme Court rejected the reasoning of the State courts. First, the monitoring program was a “search” because it enabled the State to “physically intrude on a constitutionally protected area … [A] State conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that individual’s movements.” The fact that the monitoring program was civil in nature was rendered meaningless by settled law establishing “that the Fourth Amendment’s protection extends beyond the sphere of criminal investigations  and the government’s purpose in collecting information does not control whether the method of collection constitutes a search.”
Ultimately, however, the Court observed that the Fourth Amendment protects only against unreasonable searches and seizures. Thus, it remanded the matter to the North Carolina courts to determine whether the monitoring program was reasonable when viewed as a search. Continue reading