Last February, the nation collectively grieved the death of Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy who was shot and killed in his neighborhood. Shortly after the shooting, George Zimmerman was arrested and charged with his murder. While awaiting trial, Zimmerman was ordered by a judge to wear a GPS tracking device designed to monitor his movements and reduce the risk of flight. Last Tuesday, a Florida judge upheld that order, denying Zimmerman’s request that the device be removed to allow unmonitored travel within the state.
GPS tracking has been used by courts in thousands of cases to monitor the movements of parolees, offenders under house arrest, and people awaiting trial. Alleged offenders usually wear the devices as an ankle or wrist bracelet which cannot be removed. Police can monitor the tracking data to keep tabs on their movements, ensuring that they do not travel beyond the court-ordered boundaries.
According to his lawyer, Zimmerman argued that he feared for his personal safety and that removing the tracking bracelet would allow him to protect himself and his family by remaining out of the public eye. He also argued that freedom of movement would enable him to conduct meetings with witnesses more effectively. The judge summarily denied Zimmerman’s request. Zimmerman has also been charged with perjury regarding his financial situation.
While Zimmerman’s case is not unusual, it has received more attention than most due to the high visibility of the Trayvon Martin Case. Both courts and law enforcement departments regularly use tracking devices to follow the movements of suspected criminals and those awaiting trial or those who are out on patrol. The practice is not without its opponents, however, with many claiming that using the technology to follow suspected criminals violates the Fourth Amendment.
As the devices continue to evolve and develop greater accuracy as well as greater capabilities, such questions will only become more prevalent. In the meantime, however, most agree that GPS bracelets such as the one Zimmerman must wear can assist law enforcement with keeping tabs on accused offenders and criminals out on parole. The bracelets can drastically reduce flight risk while enabling overextended departments to perform their jobs more effectively and with fewer personnel.
Just as people all across the nation grieved Trayvon Martin’s death, they now wait for justice to be served on his killer. And GPS tracking may be one tool that helps accomplish that end.