The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

March 22, 2014

GPS seen as weapon against domestic assaults

Rep. Clark Johnson authors bill in House

(Continued)

The GPS tracking can protect defendants from false accusations, as well. That happened once in the Ramsey County pilot, when a victim falsely accused a defendant of violating a no-contact order.

He acknowledges there have been concerns about it, including cost and the possibility of a false sense of security. And he concedes it’s not perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives.

“It’s more than a piece of paper,” Erickson said.

How it works

On Nov. 1, 2012, Ramsey County began screening every defendant charged with a felony domestic violence crime, said Mary Pat Maher, executive director of Project Remand, a nonprofit that contracts with the county to provide pre-trial services.

The courts there have used the GPS sparingly. Over the first year, 615 people were screened for possible inclusion in the program. It was generally used for medium-risk offenders — those who might otherwise have been in jail but were not considered at high-risk.

Of the 170 people who were eligible, only 19 participated. Like the victims, the defendants must consent to the program. Many do because it’s the only alternative to more jail time that doesn’t involve bail they can’t pay.

As of Thursday, 28 defendants have been released on GPS tracking, including 16 who have successfully completed the program and seven who failed. Only two defendants violated their no-contact orders, and it appears that the victim consented to the contact in both cases.

There really hasn’t been enough data to make a final judgment, but the re-conviction rate of 11 percent is lower than other, similar groups of offenders who aren't on GPS monitoring.

Who pays?

Scott Cutcher, the chief public defender in the 5th Judicial District, is concerned that his defendants will have to pay $11 a day to participate, and face “another pressure to plead to something they shouldn’t plea to.”

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