How do courts use GPS technology to track offenders?
Some states have specific laws that allow judges and law enforcement to use technology in ways that are intended to protect victims of domestic violence. For example, law enforcement and courts can use Global Positioning Systems (GPS) technology to track offenders who have committed domestic violence and stalking. There are two types of GPS tracking – active and passive. If a judge orders an abuser to wear an active GPS tracking device to monitor an abuser’s location, if the abuser enters a location where s/he is prohibited, the technology will notify you of the abuser’s location and may also be set to notify law enforcement or any court-ordered supervision agency that is monitoring the offender.
Alternatively, an abuser wearing passive GPS tracking may wear a tracking device 24-hours a day, but only be required to upload his/her location history once a day. The location history may then be reviewed from time to time by a probation officer or it may be used as a tool by law enforcement if you allege that the abuser violated the order. Depending on your state, a judge may be able to order GPS tracking in a criminal or civil court case.
Are there any risks to having an offender’s location tracked?
Tracking abusers with GPS technology can have risks if the victim relies solely upon the GPS tracking to stay safe. For example, passive GPS monitoring in domestic violence or stalking cases cannot be relied upon as a way to protect or warn you (or law enforcement) of the abuser’s location to prevent possible further abuse. Additionally, with active GPS monitoring, if there are not enough well-trained law enforcement officers to quickly respond when an abuser enters a prohibited location near you or if the court does not have proper procedures in place to hold offenders accountable for violating court orders, GPS monitoring is not as effective. Also, if you do not have access to the technology required to alert you if the offender comes near you or if the technology fails, active GPS monitoring may not provide you with enough warning for you to protect yourself. You may want to discuss your situation with a domestic violence advocate to decide whether GPS monitoring would be helpful in your situation and to safety plan. You can also read more about the risks and benefits of GPS monitoring from Safety Net's GPS Monitoring of Offenders handout.
Is GPS tracking available in my state?
In many states, GPS tracking is used in criminal cases as part of an offender’s release conditions. However, not all states use this technology to track abusers in the civil court system. You can check your state’s Statutes page to find out if your state has a law requiring GPS monitoring of abusers and can also check with legal experts in your state. Lawyers and victim advocates in your state may also be able to help you understand what legal protections are available in your situation.