In a per curiam decision, Grady v. North Carolina, the United States Supreme Court on Monday granted the petitioner’s writ of certiorari and immediately vacated the judgment of the Supreme Court of North Carolina. This decision allows two-time sex offender Torrey Dale Grady to challenge a tracking device that he was ordered by a state trial judge to wear the rest as his life as a violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. While, procedurally, the case returns to the North Carolina courts to decide whether this monitoring program is reasonable or not, the decision is sure to send shockwaves across the nation.
Grady relied on two recent cases to make his case, United States v. Jones, 2012 WL 171117 (2012) and Florida v. Jardines, 2012 WL 28952 (2013). In Jones, the Court had held that police officers had engaged in a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when they installed and monitored a GPS tracking device on a suspect’s car. The majority in that opinion stressed the importance of the fact that the Government had “physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information.” Similarly, in Jardines, the Court held that the use of drug-sniffing dogs on a front porch by law enforcement was a search, because police had physically entered and occupied to private area of the house for the purpose of obtaining information without the consent of the owner.
The state court had tried to distinguish Jones as based only in the suppression context of a criminal trial and not relevant in the context of Grady’s post-punishment civil proceeding. The Supreme Court batted away that suggestion, stating that “it is well settled […] that the Fourth Amendment’s protection extends beyond the sphere of criminal investigations.” The Court stated, “In light of these decisions, it follows that a state also conducts a search when it attaches a device to a person’s body, without consent, for the purpose of tracking that person’s movements.”
Because the Fourth Amendment only prohibits unreasonable searches, the Court remanded the case back to the state court to determine the reasonableness of the civil monitoring program.