By Martin Finucane, Globe Staff
The state's highest court ruled today that a law that requires GPS monitoring of people on probation for certain sex offenses applies only to offenders who have been placed on probation after being convicted of the crimes, not to offenders who are awaiting trial.
"In sum, we must conclude from the language and history of [the law] that the Legislature intended the GPS requirement to apply only to convicted individuals," the court said in a seven-page ruling written by Justice Margot Botsford.
The law went into effect in late 2006. The GPS system consists of an ankle bracelet that is permanently attached to the person and a GPS-enabled cellular telephone that comunicates with the bracelet and transmits the person's location to the state probation department, the court said.
The day the law went into effect the state probation commissioner instructed all chief probation officers that the law applied to certain sex offenders on probation, whether found guilty or before trial, the court said.
Commissioner of Probation John J. O'Brien had no comment on the case, said spokeswoman Coria Holland.
The ruling came in the case of Commonwealth v. Luis Raposo. Raposo challenged the GPS tracking requirement after he was placed on pretrial probation by a New Bedford District Court judge on charges of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and disseminating obscene matter to a minor.
Raposo questioned whether the law was constitutional, but the court declined to decide whether the law was constitutional, looking instead at the law's language and saying it simply didn't apply to Raposo and others in his situation.
The court indicated in a footnote, however, that judges still had the discretion to impose GPS tracking as a condition to agreeing to pretrial probation for a defendant.
"This puts the issue squarely in the hands of District and Superior Court judges," said Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter. "When we feel it's appropriate and warranted, we'll argue that to the judges."
Colleen Tynan, one of Rapos's attorneys, welcomed the ruling. "We're obviously pleased that the court did a careful analysis," she said.
She said the problem with the previous interpretation of the law was that it imposed monitoring on people who were presumed innocent.
"They haven't admitted they've done anything and they haven't been found guilty. ... So that's a problem," she said.
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