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Federal lawsuit seeks to halt Wisconsin’s lifetime GPS monitoring

by | Apr 5, 2019 | Criminal Appeals

Last September, the then-attorney general announced that people with two or more convictions for sex offenses would be required to wear GPS monitors for life. He ordered 180 people to get fitted for GPS bracelets within 5 days.

Those required to enter the lifetime monitoring program are also required to pay for it, at a cost of up to $240 per month. Removing the monitor is a felony.

The offenders were also told that they had no legal right to challenge the monitoring requirement for 20 years — and then only if they hadn’t committed even a misdemeanor.

There are several legal and practical problems with this. For one, many of these people were never ordered into monitoring by a court. Instead, the punishment was ordered by the prosecutor long after their conviction. Many have fully completed their sentences, including probation or parole, and are no longer under any court orders.

There are also problems with who was ordered into the monitoring program and how that decision was made. Some affected people don’t seem to meet the program’s legal criteria at all. Others had been adjudicated low risk for reoffending. No one was given due process before the lifetime monitoring requirement was imposed.

Offenders who aren’t under supervision or who committed only one crime sue for relief from monitoring

Eight people who were ordered into lifetime monitoring have filed a federal class action in the hope of representing everyone who was affected. They claim that:

  • Lifetime GPS monitoring constitutes an unreasonable search under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments
  • The Department of Corrections violated their due process rights by adding punishments that were never ordered by a judge, by providing no due process when imposing the requirement, and by denying any chance to challenge the requirement
  • By law, lifetime GPS monitoring can only be imposed on people with two separate convictions, but the Department of Corrections is imposing it on people with a single conviction
  • Lifetime GPS monitoring is being imposed on people who are no longer under any form of court supervision
  • Lifetime GPS monitoring is being imposed on people already judged to be low-risk by experts in their End of Confinement Review Board reviews

The plaintiffs are asking the federal court to rule that the program violates their constitutional rights and for an injunction to stop it, especially in the case of people who have fully served their sentences.

It can be hard for many people to sympathize for the plight of convicted sex offenders, but this program appears to confer little if any additional safety for the public. Furthermore, we can all recognize the need for due process. Courts, not prosecutors, should order punishments.


A related issue has made its way up the Wisconsin court system and last week was certified by the court of appeals to the Wisconsin Supreme Court for review. The question is whether the “two or more separate occasions” language in the statute applies when all the convictions of record are on a single complaint. Or does the sex offender registration statute language that requires lifetime registration only apply if the two convictions occurred at different times in two separate proceedings so that the second conviction occurred sometime after the defendant was already convicted in a prior case?

That interpretation would seem to make sense, because the more severe lifetime registration requirement should be reserved for those who were convicted once, then still went off and convicted again despite punishment and treatment imposed on the first offense.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court does not need to take a case that the lower court of appeals certifies to them, but they often do to resolve important issues that the higher court should decide.

The case is State v. Corey Rector, 2020AP1213.

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