U.S. Supreme Court remands Wilmington man’s case to state court to determine ‘reasonableness’ of satellite monitoring

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U.S. Supreme Court justices on Monday granted a petition requested by a Wilmington man who appealed a state supreme court ruling that his court-mandated lifetime satellite monitoring requirement was not a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

In an opinion filed March 30 in the case of Torrey Dale Grady v. North Carolina, justices granted Grady’s petition, which vacated an earlier judgment of the N.C. Supreme Court and remanded the case to the lower court. The opinion orders the lower court to consider whether the requirement that Grady be subject to satellite monitoring for the rest of his life is a “reasonable” search under Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures.

Grady was convicted of second-degree sexual offense in 1997 and taking indecent liberties with a child in 2006, according to court records. After serving his sentence for the 2006 conviction, Grady was ordered to appear before a New Hanover County Superior Court judge for a hearing to determine if he should be subjected to lifetime satellite-based, or GPS, monitoring as a repeat sex offender.

Grady did not question whether he was deemed a repeat sex offender under state law, but rather whether the monitoring program–which would require him to wear the device at all time–would violate his Fourth Amendment rights protecting him against unreasonable searches and seizures, according to court records.

“Unpersuaded, the trial court ordered Grady to enroll in the program and be monitored for the rest of his life,” the U.S. Supreme Court decision states.

Grady appealed the lifetime monitoring requirement to the N.C. Court of Appeals, then to the N.C. Supreme Court, where justices ruled the monitoring program was not a Fourth Amendment violation.

“The State’s program is plainly designed to obtain information,” the decision states. “And since it does so by physically intruding on a subject’s body, it effects a Fourth Amendment search. That conclusion, however, does not decide the ultimate question of the program’s constitutionality. The Fourth Amendment prohibits only unreasonable searches.

“The reasonableness of a search depends on the totality of the circumstances, including the nature and purpose of the search and the extent to which the search intrudes upon reasonable privacy expectations…The North Carolina courts did not examine whether the State’s monitoring program is reasonable–when properly viewed as a search–and we will not do so in the first instance.”

The matter now goes back before the N.C. Supreme Court.