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Monitoring for Convicted Sex Offenders Upheld - Part 1

A divided North Carolina Supreme Court held last week that North Carolina sex offenders can be subject to electronic monitoring even if their convictions occurred before the passage of the tracking law.

The tracking law requires individuals convicted of certain sex offenses to wear an ankle bracelet and a miniature tracking device. The devise uses GPS technology which allows the Department of Corrections to determine the whereabouts of sex offenders at all times. Every three months, probation officials must enter the offender's home to perform equipment maintenance. The law is aimed at preventing repeat sex offenses, and took effect in August 2006.

In a 4-3 decision, the court held that the electronic monitoring is not an additional unconstitutional punishment, even for three men who were convicted of taking indecent liberties with children before the effective date of the monitoring law. The three defendants argued that their enrollments in the electronic monitoring program amounted to retroactive punishments.

Last year Buncombe County Superior Court Judge Dennis Winner agreed with the defendants, holding that the Legislature intended for the monitoring to be a criminal punishment. The state appealed that decision.

The majority, in an opinion written by Associate Justice Edward Brady, overturned Winner's ruling, finding that law was not meant as a criminal punishment, but rather as a crime deterrent. Justice Brady pointed out that the bill's title "to protect North Carolina's children" further proves the intent of the Legislature. The majority concluded that the Legislature intended to create a non-punitive way of tracking sex offenders.

In our next blog post, we will focus on the dissenting opinion in this case.

Source: Myrtle Beach Sun News "NC justices uphold monitoring some sex offenders," Gary D. Robertson, 8 October 2010

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