The Ramsey County attorney's office, Project Remand and other criminal justice partners are launching a pilot project using GPS monitoring as a condition of pre-trial release for felony domestic violence cases.
GPS technology will track the location of the defendant in relation to the victim to ensure compliance with a no contact order and to protect the victim. Participation in the program is voluntary for both the defendant and the victim.
The Ramsey County project will have up to five pre-trial defendants on the GPS monitoring program at any given time and will run for one year.
"This program will apply the power of technology and creative thinking to intervene in this all-too-familiar cycle of violence," said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi. "Most importantly, it gives victims of domestic violence another layer of protection at a critical point in their lives."
WILL GPS STOP A DETERMINED SUSPECT?
A June report on a national survey of GPS tracking in these cases found victims and program administrators were well-aware that a defendant could still harm a protected person regardless of whether they are tethered to a GPS tracker, but the benefits seem to outweigh the risks.
BENEFITS FOR VICTIMS
They may experience peace of mind during the period following an alleged abuser's arrest knowing that he is being tracked and monitored on his approach to "victim zones" (i.e., the victim's house or place of employment).
Having relief from harassment and abuse can assist the victim in rethinking her relationship and reimagining her future. Thus, some women return to school, or pursue a new career, and generally seek to become more independent.
A higher conviction rate associated with GPS participation may be of value to the victim, as it may ultimately lead to what the victim often wants: for the defendant to get help (e.g., anger management).
DOWNSIDES FOR VICTIMS
Less financial support from an estranged partner (who may not find employment because of the stigma of GPS enrollment or its restrictions, or be unable to work overtime because of curfew restrictions, or be required to pay GPS monitoring-related fees).
Developing a false sense of security (in cases where victims are not properly apprised of the limits of GPS monitoring), and adopting self-segregating practices (such as when victims curtail their travel strictly to the "victim zone" due to fear).
The victim may also undermine the program by contacting the defendant or meeting with her estranged partner "on her own terms," unbeknown to the monitoring staff, thereby endangering herself despite the defendant's enrollment in the program.
A conviction can also place a burden on a household's finances if a record of a domestic violence conviction poses an employment disability for the convicted party.
BENEFITS FOR DEFENDANTS
Participation in the program may allow defendants to be released at a lower amount than would otherwise be the case, or allow defendants to be released from jail if they cannot raise bail.
Because they are tracked, program enrollment may protect them from false accusations made by the victim about contact attempts or harassment.
The program's restrictions may provide "structure" to unorganized lives. By forcing defendants to abide by schedules and reporting rules, elements of time management and day planning are instilled.
Some defendants may use their time on the program to seek employment, return to a neglected hobby, or renew relationships with other family members (especially in cases where the defendant has moved into the dwelling of a family relation).
Defendants may treat their time on the program, under conditions of forced separation from a partner, as an opportunity to rethink the relationship, and ponder (and rehearse) an existence without her presence in their lives.
At the urging of a defense attorney, and sometimes on their own initiative, a defendant may join a batterer intervention or anger management program, possibly hoping to impress a judge at sentencing, but incidentally acquiring skills that can serve them well after case disposition.
"When a defendant completes conditional release supervision successfully it is a WIN-WIN," said Project Remand executive director, Mary Pat Maher. "This is especially true in cases of domestic violence."
ABOUT THE STUDY
The study examined the implementation of GPS monitoring technology in enforcing court mandated "no contact" orders in domestic violence cases, particularly those involving intimate partner violence. The research also addresses the effectiveness of GPS as a form of pretrial supervision, as compared to other conditions in which defendants are placed.
The study was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.