Seventh Circuit Review


In 2006, the Wisconsin Legislature enacted a law requiring the lifetime GPS monitoring of serious sex offenders to discourage recidivism. Sexual abuse has devastating consequences on a child, and the crime often goes unreported because children tend to be afraid of their abusers, worried about their parents' reactions, or unable to describe the events. Despite having the best interests of children in mind, these GPS monitoring laws have the potential to infringe upon the constitutional rights of offenders.

In Belleau v. Wall, the Seventh Circuit reviewed Fourth Amendment and Ex Post Facto Clause implications of this statute. Michael Belleau was convicted in 1992 and 1994 for sexually abusing children. After completing his sentences, the State successfully petitioned to place him under civil commitment. When he left the facility in 2010, he became subject to the monitoring statute. If the lifetime GPS tracking was part of his original sentence or a condition of his release, his case would not have made it to the Seventh Circuit. The question in this case was whether the statute violated the Fourth Amendment or the Ex Post Facto Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment only prohibits unreasonable searches. Because convicted sex offenders have diminished expectations of privacy and because they are less likely to repeat their crimes while under monitoring, the Seventh Circuit found that the gain to society outweighed the inconvenience to convicts like Belleau. The prohibition of the Ex Post Facto Clause was more difficult to overcome. The Wisconsin Legislature passed the monitoring statute nearly twenty years after Belleau had committed his last offense. No one disputed that the law applied to Belleau retroactively. However, the retroactive application is only prohibited if the statute imposes new or additional punishment. To avoid this limitation, the Seventh Circuit labeled the GPS monitoring program "prevention" as opposed to "punishment."

This Article reviews the procedural history of Belleau v. Wall and how other circuits dealt with similar statutes. The Supreme Court suggested that lifetime monitoring of serious sex offenders might be reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, however, the Court did not address whether retroactive application was permissible. As several states disagree on the ex post facto implications of these statutes, the pressure is mounting on the Supreme Court to weigh in with an opinion.

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