Electronic Monitoring in Texas Criminal Cases

GPS Satellite NASAOf the thousands of criminal cases brought by federal, state, county, and local prosecutors around the country each year, very few result in an actual bench or jury trial. Many or most cases end with a plea bargain of some sort. Modern technology has allowed law enforcement to develop electronic monitoring systems as an alternative to incarceration. These systems are now widely used by criminal courts, juvenile courts, and probation and parole officers. Electronic monitoring devices allow officials to monitor individuals’ movements and locations. In some cases, the use of these systems raises new civil rights questions. Technological and administrative shortcomings can also contribute to situations in which the electronic monitoring itself prevents a person from fulfilling other obligations in a criminal case.

Electronic monitoring can take several forms. The Pretrial Services Division in Travis County, Texas describes two systems that it may use. “Radio Frequency Electronic Monitoring” involves the use of a device—commonly worn as an ankle bracelet—that transmits a signal if it is carried outside a designated area. This type of device is used for house arrest and other situations in which an individual must remain at home at designated times. “Global Positioning System Electronic Monitoring” allows officials to determine an individual’s location and track their movements in order to monitor compliance with court requirements.

Several provisions of Texas law allow for electronic monitoring. In criminal cases, courts can require the use of electronic monitoring to enforce a sentence of house arrest in lieu of a jail sentence. Tex. Code Crim. P. Art. 42.035. A court may require electronic monitoring as a condition of release from jail on a personal bond. Id. at Art. 17.43. Electronic monitoring may also be used as an alternative to incarceration in juvenile cases. A court can order electronic monitoring as part of the civil commitment system for certain convicted sex offenders. Tex. Health & Safety Code § 841.081 et seq.

Texas laws and policies requiring electronic monitoring have generally stood up to court challenges. For example, courts have held that changes to electronic monitoring requirements by parole officials do not violate the Constitution’s prohibition on ex post facto laws. Johnson v. Owens, No. 14-50627, slip op. (5th Cir., May 19, 2015); Vineyard v. Keesee, No. 95-10132, slip op. (5th Cir., Oct. 18, 1995). Electronic monitoring as a condition of probation has also survived court challenges. Anderson v. Texas, No. 10-97-093-CR, slip op. (Tex. App.—Dallas, Dec. 17, 1997).

Court decisions from outside Texas have found problems with certain uses of electronic monitoring. A Massachusetts court held that electronic monitoring may not be required in juvenile cases, even with a finding of delinquency, based on the principle that juveniles should be treated “as children in need of aid, encouragement and guidance,” rather than criminals. Comm. v. Hanson, 464 Mass. 807, 808 (2013). The U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door to the possibility that lifetime electronic monitoring requirements violate the Constitution. Grady v. North Carolina, 575 U.S. ___ (2015).

These blog posts are meant to be illustrative only. Unless expressly stated to the contrary herein, these matters are not the result of any legal work of Michael J. Brown, but are used to communicate a particular point of view. Michael J. Brown does not claim credit for any legal work done by any lawyer or law firm either generally or specifically, with respect to the matters contained in this blog.

For over 20 years, board-certified criminal defense attorney Michael J. Brown has represented defendants facing charges in federal and state courts in West Texas. Contact us online or at (432) 687-5157 today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.

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Appellate Courts Split on Question of Cell Phone Tracking Technology and the Fourth Amendment, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, February 26, 2016

Federal Lawsuit Addresses Government’s Authority to Detain, Search Individuals at U.S. Border Without a Warrant, Texas Criminal Lawyer Blog, October 30, 2015

Photo credit: NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.