More and more often, judges are ordering defendants to be placed on GPS bracelets as a condition of pre-trial release and/or probation. Despite the fact that the bracelets are often a major help to clients who can avoid incarceration by agreeing to wear them, even the Supreme Judicial Court has recognized (in Commonwealth v. Corey) that the bracelets have a decisively punitive effect. Additionally, the bracelets also may generate unnecessary problems for people doing nothing wrong. Oftentimes, the devices fail through no fault of the defendant, and significant consequences result – including warrants for arrest, the need for repeated and disruptive visits to court, and/or allegations of tampering that may result in additional criminal charges.
The bracelets rely on triangulation from three satellites and collect longitude and latitude coordinates, as well as information on the wearer’s speed and direction of travel. They do not measure altitude, meaning that they do not differentiate between floors of a residence. The bracelets then send this collected information to a data center via cellular phone towers.
The information is monitored by the Massachusetts Probation Service’s Electronic Monitoring Program and can be reviewed by a probation officer via an internet connection. In Massachusetts, an “active” tracking feature is used, meaning that information updates can be provided in real time. The vast majority of GPS bracelets are “one-piece” units with a home beacon, which helps to boost the signal within a residence and give a more precise indication of whether the monitored party is at his or her registered home address. These “one-piece” devices have a battery life of 36 hours and can recharge in about two hours. A very small percentage of bracelets (about 5%) are “two-piece” units, which feature a phone and a bracelet, plus a base unit that plugs into a landline connection. These are primarily used in areas with poor cell reception. They have a battery life of 20 hours and require four hours to re-charge. Continue reading →