A federal appeals court panel said requiring a convicted sex offender to wear a GPS anklet for life doesn’t violate the constitutional ban on retroactive punishment, even though the law forcing him to be fitted with the monitoring device went on the books after he was found guilty.
In a 3-0 decision, members of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed Friday to overturn a federal judge’s previous ruling that it was unconstitutional to make Michael Belleau of Green Bay, Wisconsin, wear an electronic monitoring bracelet.
Belleau, 72, was convicted in 1992 for molesting a young boy and again in 1994 for assaulting a young girl. He was sentenced to a decade in prison for the latter and paroled in 2000, but that parole was revoked the following year and he was sent back to prison after he had contact with two more children.
Belleau was civilly committed to a secure treatment center in 2004 under Wisconsin’s sex offender laws and released in 2010, but legislation was passed in the interim requiring anyone released from civil commitment beyond 2008 to wear a monitoring device.
In 2012, two years after he was outfitted with a GPS anklet, Bellaeu’s attorneys filed a lawsuit alleging that forcing him to wear the device amounted was unconstitutional since it punished him for conduct made criminal after the fact and also amounted to being an unreasonable search and seizure.
Last year, Chief U.S. District Judge William Griesbach agreed, opining “The state’s authority over the individual is not unlimited.”
In reversing that decision, the appellate panel said last week that requiring sex offenders to be monitored 254 hours a day “is not punishment; it is prevention.”
“Having to wear the monitor is a bother, an inconvenience, an annoyance, but no more is punishment than being stopped by a police officer on the highway and asked to show your driver’s license, or being placed on a sex offender registry,” Judge Richard A. Posner wrote for the Seventh Circuit.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Joel M. Flaum wrote that “the language of the monitoring statute indicates that the legislature’s objective was to protect children, not punish sex offenders.
“The restraint imposed by these requirements in minimal and incidental to the law’s actual purpose — tracking Belleau’s movements,” Judge Flaum wrote. “Although privacy is a value of constitutional magnitude, it must yield, on occasion, to the state’s substantial interest to protect the public through reasonable regulations in appropriate circumstances.”
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel said the decision “strikes a proper balance under the Constitution.”
“As the court recognized, the program is designed to lower the risk of re-offense of a repeat child sex offender, and it properly promotes public safety by deterring offenses by a particularly concerning subset of individuals,” he said.
Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union who represented Belleau did not immediately respond to requests for comment made by the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin following Friday’s ruling.
Wisconsin law allows for sex offenders to appeal for their release from GPS monitoring after 20 years, but individuals who have been civilly committed after serving time are subject to lifetime surveillance.