- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 23, 2014

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) - More than 100 convicted sex offenders who have served their prison sentences could be taken off GPS monitoring devices after New Jersey’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that the state can’t subject them to round-the-clock monitoring if their crime occurred before the law authorizing it went into effect.

The court ruled in the case of George Riley of Eatontown, who served more than 20 years in prison for attempted sexual assault of a minor in 1986, more than 20 years before the state Legislature passed the Sex Offender Monitoring Act. The law requires 24-hour GPS monitoring for sex offenders determined to be high risk.

State Parole Board executive director David Thomas on Tuesday estimated that about 125 people currently under GPS monitoring could be affected by the court’s ruling. Thomas didn’t comment on the ruling but said by email that his office is working with the state attorney general’s office on the matter.

When Riley was released from prison in 2009, at age 76, he was not subject to any form of parole supervision, based on New Jersey law at the time of his conviction. But he was subject to Internet registration and community notification requirements under Megan’s Law. The parole board also ordered Riley to wear the GPS device, saying its decision was based on the classification of Riley as a Tier 3, or highest-level, sex offender under Megan’s Law.

In his appeal, Riley argued that the GPS monitoring was actually based on his 1986 conviction and that it amounted to additional punishment imposed after his sentence was completed, a violation of state and federal laws. The parole board rejected his appeal, but a three-judge appeals court later sided with Riley and reversed the GPS requirement.

In its 4-3 decision Monday, the Supreme Court also agreed with Riley, with Justice Barry Albin writing that “SOMA is essentially parole supervision for life by another name” and it violated constitutional prohibitions on punishment applied retroactively. Albin noted that at Riley’s hearing on the Megan’s Law issue, “the court made no independent assessment of Riley’s current dangerousness unrelated to his prior convictions.”

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner and Justices Anne Patterson and Faustino Fernandez-Vina dissented.

The decision “is another in a line of decisions in which the judiciary has been asked to consider the reach of new technologies in a constitutional setting,” said Peter Verniero, a former state attorney general and Supreme Court justice currently in private practice. “That the justices were divided perhaps reflects the division within society itself over the government’s use of advanced technologies in a law enforcement context.”

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