Domestic violence monitoring bill faces cost, constitutional questions

Members of a Senate judiciary committee are worried about how to pay for GPS monitoring for those accused of domestic violence and whether the program could run afoul of the U.S. Constitution.

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Mark Binker
RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill that would allow for GPS monitoring of those accused of domestic violence faced questions in the Senate Judiciary II Committee Tuesday over cost and its constitutionality. 

Senators did not vote on the bill but peppered its sponsor with questions.

The measure would allow judges to require someone subject to a domestic violence protective order to wear an ankle bracelet. That bracelet would then be monitored to ensure the individual didn't enter an "exclusion zone" around his or her victim's house, school or workplace. 

"The intent would be that (the system) would send an alert when they're in an area that they're not supposed to be," explained Sen. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth. 

Hal Pell, an attorney working for the committee, said the Administrative Office of the Courts had raised questions about the measure. Among them, he said, is whether constant monitoring of someone who hasn't been convicted of a crime might violate federal constitutional prohibitions on illegal searches and seizures.

Domestic violence orders are the products of civil proceedings, not criminal trials, which order someone to stay away from his or her alleged victim.

Pell also said the bill contemplates the person being monitored paying a fee to offset the cost. However, if that person hasn't been convicted of a crime, it's unclear where they would pay that cost or whether the amount involved – possibly more than $500 – would give the defendant the right to a jury trial.

"These amounts could run into the thousands of dollars," he said.

Other states have required monitoring only after there has been a violation of an initial domestic violence order. 

Members of the committee said they backed the idea behind the bill but worried that those problems needed to be worked out before it was passed.

"It just sounds like its more appropriate to do a study," said Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash.

The bill wouldn't take effect until late in 2014, she observed, so the measure could be heard during next year's legislative session.

But Lambeth asked that the Senate pass the bill and suggested lawmakers could work out any problems with costs next year.

Other senators were skeptical that the measure would have its intended effect.

"Anyone who is intent on murdering someone is going to find a way to do it," said Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke. "Are we really going to be able to solve the problem?"

As of 2010, there were 16 states using GPS to do some sort of monitoring in domestic violence cases. Pell said that, in some states, violations of domestic violence orders had been cut significantly by the program. 

Committee Chairman Sen. Austin Allran, R-Catawba, said the bill could be taken up at a future meeting.

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