The Jackson Free Press published an article covering Mississippi laws passed this year which have come into effect as of July 1st.
House Bill 196, first introduced by Representative Brandon Jones, and signed by the Governor in March, stands out in particular. This law enables judges to require defendants on trial for charges involving domestic violence/abuse wear electronic GPS tracking devices as a condition of their release on bond.
Their alleged victims would in turn be offered the use of electronic devices which would alert them if the defendant moves within a pre-determined distance of their home or other locations the judge has ordered them to refrain from entering.
Now, while this is potentially an invasion of privacy and encroachment on defendants’ freedom, I think the safety of the alleged victim outweighs these other concerns. The law includes convincing language about why it is necessary.
“In determining whether to order a defendant’s participation in a global positioning monitoring system under this section, the court shall consider the likelihood that the defendant’s participation will deter the defendant from seeking to kill, physically injure, stalk, or otherwise threaten the alleged victim before trial.
However, the part of the law that I do not agree with is the following: the defendant is required to pay for the tracking device and the electronic monitor, rather than the government.
I applaud Mississippi’s efforts to protect victims of domestic abuse and ensure that defendants do not intimidate or further abuse alleged victims before a case can go to trial. The reasons behind the bill seem solid, and the Jackson Free Press claims the bill came into existence after the JFP “revealed that the governor had developed a habit of pardoning men who had slain wives and girlfriends.”
However, to place a financial burden, which will not be recouped, on someone who has not yet been proven guilty is unfair and unconstitutional. Whereas bail money is returned to defendants when they show up for trial, this money would not be reimbursed.
“Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”
The Eighth Amendment is meant to protect defendants from having to suffer for their crimes before they have had a chance to go to trial. For the same reason requiring excessive bail is unjust, requiring defendants to use their own money to track themselves, and to give this information to their accusers, seems to fit the “cruel and unusual punishment” standard.
It is not a matter of whether the defendants can afford it (if the court determines that a defendant is indigent, s/he can do community service instead), but rather placing this kind of non-bail financial burden on them before they have had a chance to be tried.
If the state truly wishes to protect victims by means of this system they must take on the responsibility of paying for the tracking devices themselves. Otherwise, they stand to contradict the foundation upon which our criminal law system stands, innocent until proven guilty. Making victims out of defendants doesn’t bring about justice.